This is a very common question for immigrants starting the Consular Processing. Consular Processing means that you are attempting to acquire an Immigrant Visa abroad at a US Embassy or US Consulate. Since Consular Processing is extremely slow and backlogged, many wish to know if they are able to travel to the United States while the I-130 is pending.
In short, the answer is “yes.” International Travel to the United States is possible, but there are conditions.
First Condition: You must have a visa to travel
A Visa and Visa Waiver must be applied for and approved in order to travel to the US while the I-130 is pending. A Pending I-130, by itself, is NOT a travel document.
Second Condition: You must honor the authorized period of stay
A Visa and Visa Waiver has a maximum number of days in which someone is “authorized” to stay in the US. Similarly, a Visa and Visa Waiver has a minimum amount of time one MUST WAIT ABROAD after visiting the US.
For example, an ESTA/Visa Waiver stay is authorized up to 90 days in the US. If the person stays in the US for 90 days, the must leave the US for a minimum of 91 days. People get into trouble when they stay 90 days, leave for 30 days, and then try to come back to the US for another 90 days.
Third Condition: Return Plane Ticket and Game Plan
If visiting the US, most people generally have a game plan. They know the travel dates to and from the United States. When a plane ticket is purchased, a return plane ticket is also usually purchased. That is the common practice for anyone “visiting” the US, and it is something Customs / CBP looks for when someone travels to the US while the I-130 is pending.
To summarize, travel to the US is possible while the I-130 is pending. If you follow the above three normal conditions, any temporary visits to the US should be smooth and stress-free.
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