US Refugee Travel Documents

In order to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad, asylees and refugees without Green Cards must have a Refugee Travel Document. The one exception to that rule is if they have been approved for advance parole. A Refugee Travel Document grants entrance to the United States for individuals with valid refugee or asylee statuses and for refugee and asylee Green Card holders in the U.S. A refugee travel document is valid for one year.

If you have already been granted asylum, you may travel abroad with the prior approval of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the form of a refugee travel document. Generally, you should make sure to have the approved refugee travel document prior to your departure from the U.S., however, certain circumstances permit the issuance of a refugee travel document abroad. It is also important to note that a refugee travel document does not necessarily guarantee admission into the United States.

Who Needs a Refugee Travel Document?

This document is issued to an asylee to allow for re-entry into the U.S. after temporary travel abroad. The failure to obtain a refugee travel document before leaving the U.S. could mean that you will be unable to re-enter the country or be placed in removal proceedings with an immigration judge. Keep in mind that you are required to a refugee travel document if you wish to return to the U.S. under two circumstances:

  1. You have refugee or asylee status but are not a Green Card holder (lawful permanent resident).
  2. Are a derivative asylee or refugee.

Other Types of Travel Documents

Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services currently issues three other types of travel documents:

  • Advance parole
  • Re-entry permit
  • Carrier documentation

Consequences for Returning to Your Home Country

Returning to your country of claimed persecution may be cause for termination of your asylum rights here in the U.S. If you obtained asylum or a Green Card based on asylum status, you may be questioned about why you were somehow able to return to a country of claimed persecution and potentially subject to proceedings to terminate asylum status. Here are some of the grounds for that termination under U.S. immigration laws:

  1. Your asylum status could be terminated based on a fundamental change in circumstances in your country of persecution.
  2. Termination of your right to re-enter the U.S. could also occur due to fraud in the asylum application. The very act of returning to the country of feared persecution can, in some circumstances, be considered evidence that your alleged fear of persecution is not genuine.
  3. In addition, your asylum status could be terminated if you have voluntarily availed yourself of the protection of your country of nationality.

If you are an asylum applicant and leave the U.S. without obtaining a travel document beforehand, it is assumed that you have abandoned your asylum application. Filing Form I-131 can allow you to return to the United States without a visa after traveling abroad in certain circumstances.

How Long Does the Process Take?

Typical USCIS processing times can take anywhere from 6 months to a year. There are services that expedite processing time to 6 to 12 weeks from the day USCIS receives your documents, however.

Refugee Travel Document Fees

The fees associated with Refugee Travel Documents vary based on your age at the time of filing. If you are 16 years of age or older, the fee of a refugee travel document is $135. If you are under 16 years old, then the refugee travel document fee is $105. All applicants between 14 years old and 80 years old must pay an additional $85 biometric services fee.