Travel Abroad for Ukrainians Currently in the United States
U.S. immigration law makes it extremely difficult for non-citizens to travel back and forth from the United States if they do not have lawful permanent resident status or a multi-entry visa.
Many Ukrainians currently living in the United States in a temporary status wish to travel abroad, and then return to the United States. There are very understandable reasons to do so, especially to visit Ukraine. Husbands and sons remain in Ukraine, elderly or ill relatives need care, there are weddings or funerals to attend, and there are urgent real estate or other business matters to attend to. Also understandable is the wish to return to safety in the United States. However, U.S. immigration law makes it extremely difficult for non-citizens to travel back and forth from the United States if they do not have lawful permanent resident status or a multi-entry visa. Even holders of multi-entry visas, such as a B2 visitor visa or F1 student visa, may be denied re-entry if they did not continuously comply with all conditions of their visa while they were in the United States.
Most Ukrainian citizens who have come to the United States since February 2022 have either parole or Temporary Protected Status. If someone with parole or TPS leaves the United States without first obtaining advance parole, it is highly likely that they will not be allowed to return to the United States.
What Is Advance Parole?
Advance parole is a document that gives advance permission for someone to leave and return to the United States even though they do not have a green card or a multi-entry visa. It is not a guarantee of re-entry to the United States, though usually someone who has been granted a valid advance parole document is paroled back into the United States after travel abroad. Both those with TPS status and those who entered the United States with humanitarian parole may be able to receive advance parole.
Process for Applying for Advance Parole
Applicants must file Form I-131 with USCIS and pay the filing fee of $575. Fee waivers are not available. USCIS lists current processing times for advance parole applications as ranging from 11 to 18 months. USCIS will grant “emergency advance parole” in extremely limited situations, such as the severe illness or death of a close relative. Emergency advance parole will be processed faster, but qualifying for it is extremely difficult. Anyone who feels they need emergency advance parole should consult with an experienced immigration attorney. The process involves not only filing the Form I-131 with USCIS but also making an appointment at a local USCIS field office; local office practices about making an appointment and applying for emergency advance parole vary and a knowledgeable attorney is essential to help navigate this process.
Travel Abroad While On TPS
One of the requirements of TPS is that the person have maintained what is called “continuous presence” in the United States since the date qualifying them for TPS (in other words, if the TPS holder was in the U.S. on April 11, 2022, he or she needs to remain in the U.S. continuously after that date). Departing the United States interrupts the continuous presence and renders the person no longer eligible for TPS. However, if a person with TPS first obtains advance parole, they may travel abroad, safely return to the U.S., and maintain their TPS.
If someone entered the United States on a B2 visitor visa, complied with all requirements of the visa, and then obtained TPS before their authorized stay in B2 status expired, they may be able to travel abroad without advance parole and return to the United States using their visitor visa. However, they may face questioning by Customs and Border Protection officers at the airport as to the purpose of their return to the United States on a visitor visa after holding TPS. Even if allowed to return using their B2 visitor visa, they will lose their TPS status and will not be able to reapply for it under the current eligibility criteria. TPS holders who still have valid B2 visas are strongly advised to consult an experienced immigration attorney prior to departing the United States without advance parole.
Please note that if someone with a visa violated the conditions of that visa—for example, worked while present in the United States on a B2 visitor visa, or remained in the United States after the authorized period of stay expired—will almost certainly not be permitted to re-enter the United States with that same visa. In addition, they may face challenges in applying for U.S. visas in the future.
Travel Abroad While On Humanitarian Parole
The Uniting for Ukraine (or U4U) program has allowed tens of thousands of Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole to enter the United States. Additionally, thousands of Ukrainians were granted humanitarian parole at the US-Mexico border in March and April 2022. Parole is a form of entry to the United States for someone who otherwise is not eligible for a visa or admission to the United States. Humanitarian parole, by definition, allows only one entry into the United States. Someone who has been paroled into the United States does not have a legal status, and as such, a grant of humanitarian parole is a one-time grant, not multi-entry like some visas.
The USCIS informational website for Uniting for Ukraine states clearly that a U4U beneficiary who has been paroled into the United States may apply for advance parole in order to seek a new grant of parole at a port of entry when returning to the United States from a trip abroad. It is less clear whether Ukrainians who received humanitarian parole at the US-Mexico border are eligible for advance parole.
If granted advance parole, Ukrainians with humanitarian parole may be allowed to return to the U.S. after an absence. However, CBP has stated that its official policy is to grant Ukrainians returning to the United States parole as DA category parolees, not DT or UHP parolees. CBP has stated that they want to prevent humanitarian parole being “used as a visa.” This policy has possible ramifications for Ukrainian parolees: travel with advance parole and return under category DA will terminate Ukrainians’ eligibility for public benefits, which is tied to grants of DT humanitarian parole at the border or UHP humanitarian parole under U4U. It is not yet clear whether USCIS will create a program by which U4U parolees may extend their parole in the United States, and if such a program is created, it is not clear if parolees who departed and returned on advance parole would be eligible for an extension. Ukrainians with humanitarian parole who intend to travel on advance parole or emergency advance parole should be aware of these potential issues.
Humanitarian parole is a one-time entry, so if Ukrainians with humanitarian parole leave the country without advance parole, they may be unable to safely return to the United States. This is true regardless of the reason for their departure and regardless of their overseas destination.
USCIS has not announced an official policy for how it will treat t repeat applications for U4U for beneficiaries who have departed the United States but there have been reports of travel authorization being denied for Ukrainians who left the United States and applied for U4U a second time.
Departure to Apply for U4U
Sometimes Ukrainians who are present in the United States with temporary statuses other than humanitarian parole—such as TPS or B2 visitor visas—think about leaving so that they can return on U4U, because the authorized period of stay is longer, Ukrainians with humanitarian parole are eligible for public benefits, and there is work authorization (unlike a B2). However, the approach carries risks. U4U is intended for Ukrainians currently outside of the United States, not those who already have a different status within the United States. While there were reports in the summer of 2022 of Ukrainians successfully leaving the United States and returning with a U4U travel authorization, since then, there have been additional reports of Ukrainians not being granted parole at the port of entry.