What is a Refugee Travel Document?

refugee travel document explainerA Refugee Travel Document is a travel document (very similar to a passport) issued to a refugee or asylee that allows him or her to travel abroad and return to the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues Refugee Travel Documents to persons with refugee or asylum status (and in some cases to lawful permanent residents who obtained their permanent residence through refugee or asylum status).

Who Needs a Refugee Travel Document

You must have a Refugee Travel Document to return to the United States if you:

  • Have refugee or asylum status but are not a lawful permanent resident (green card holder); or
  • Are a derivative asylee or refugee.

If you do not obtain a travel document before you leave the U.S., you may be unable to re-enter the United States or you may be placed in removal proceedings before an immigration judge.

Lawful permanent residents who obtained their status through refugee or asylum status may also apply for a travel document. Although permanent residents can generally enter the United States with the green card (after an absence of less than one year), a travel document may be needed to enter other countries. In this way, the travel document is much like a passport.

An asylum “applicant” cannot obtain a Refugee Travel Document. Instead, asylum applicants may apply for an Advance Parole Document. Advance Parole allows certain aliens to return to the United States without a visa after traveling abroad.

Form I-131, Application for Travel Document

To apply for a Refugee Travel Document, file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. You should file a Form I-131 before you leave the United States and expect processing times of approximately three months. However, it may take longer. Expedited processing may be available for your situation.

Should you need to leave the United States before USCIS grants the travel document or you want to apply outside the United States, please consult with an immigration attorney.

Mistakes on your Form I-131 can cause costly delays or a denial.
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Period of Validity

A Refugee Travel Document is valid for up to one year. During this time you can use the document multiple times.

USCIS will not renew your travel document. Instead, you’ll need to apply for a new one with Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Traveling to the Country of Persecution

Traveling back to the country where you experienced past persecution or claim a fear of future persecution is highly discouraged.

RECOMMENDED: Dangers of Refugee/Asylee Travel to Home Country

Source: USCIS