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This depends on your status. U.S. citizens can obtain and use a U.S. passport. While in the past lesser forms of identification had been accepted while traveling to Canada, Mexico or other locations within the Western Hemisphere, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (“WHTI”) now mandates a U.S. passport in almost all cases – and this is the recommended document. U.S. Permanent Residents – “Green Card” holders – can use an I-551 Permanent Resident card and the home country passport (or alternatively a temporary permanent residence stamp in the home country passport) to enter the U.S. Foreign nationals with an Application to Adjust Status to Permanent Residence, if still in valid H-1B or L-1 status, can use a valid H-1B or L-1 visa stamp. All other foreign nationals with such an application on file will need an Advance Parole document to reenter. This is true even for foreign nationals still on a valid non-immigrant visa other than an H-1B or L-1. Foreign nationals on any non-immigrant visa (but without an Application to Adjust Status on file) need a visa stamp in their home country passport to enter the U.S. – although there is an exception to this rule for Canadian nationals.
Several things should be considered before a foreign national leaves the U.S. For one thing, if the person intends to return, it’s important to examine the question of how the person would come back. If the foreign national is without valid immigration status, not only will the individual not have a status on which to base an application to enter the U.S. again but they may – if the foreign national has accrued enough unlawful presence – be subject to a three- or ten-year bar to reentry. Further, if an Application to Adjust Status to Permanent Residence has been filed by a foreign national who does not currently possess a valid H-1B or L-1 visa, a special Parole document is needed to leave and re-enter the country or the Application to Adjust Status will be deemed abandoned. The Parole can be applied for with the Adjustment of Status application, but usually takes at least eight weeks for approval (and often longer). While the application for the Parole is pending the foreign national cannot leave without surrendering the Adjustment of Status application. When an application for an Employment Authorization Document is submitted at the same time along with the Adjustment of Status filing, the Parole normally takes the form of a statement at the bottom of the Employment Authorization Document that it is also “Valid for Travel.” Finally, there are also considerations of timing accompanying plans to return to the U.S. after travel abroad. Those who will need to process for a non-immigrant visa stamp in order to reenter the U.S. will need to be conscious of the often-long processing wait times at consulates abroad. A foreign national who has received an extension or change of non-immigrant status since their last entry to the U.S. will likely need to obtain a new visa stamp. Even though the individual may be eligible for the stamp, time constraints may not permit the person to remain abroad sufficiently long for the embassy or consulate in the intended country of travel to process the application. Processing times should be checked before departure, and plans made accordingly.
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