Refugee travel document and travel rights

Are you a refugee or asylee? Do you need to travel outside the United States?  You will need a Refugee Travel Document in order to return to the USA.  Most refugees and asylees can use a Refugee Travel Document for travel in place of a passport.

Elder refugee man

A person with refugee or asylum status who wishes to travel outside of the USA needs a Refugee Travel Document. Without this document, you may not be eligible to re-enter the United States and you could be placed in detention or immigration court.

refugee travel document

The Refugee Travel Document looks like a passport and can be used like one. However, as a refugee, please understand that until you are a US citizen, there is some risk to traveling outside of the USA because you could lose your status. You may have a very good reason to travel outside of the USA. But it is important that you know about the potential immigration challenges involved.

How do I apply for a Refugee Travel Document?

To apply for a Refugee Travel Document, you need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. In order to file the form, please carefully read the instructions to complete Form I-131. Completing legal forms can be very confusing, even for people born in the US. If you need to complete a legal form, it is a good idea to get help from your resettlement agency. Depending on where you live, you will have to mail the form to a different address. Make sure you mail the form to the correct address.

Does it cost money to file a travel document?

Yes. Depending on your age, you may have to pay a fee for both the form and for your biometrics (fingerprinting and photographs). You may be able to apply for a fee waiver if you can show financial hardship.

Can I file a Form I-131 for a Refugee Travel Document after I leave the United States?

You should file a Form I-131 for a Refugee Travel Document before you leave the United States. If you do not file for a Refugee Travel Document before you leave the United States, you could lose your status as a refugee or have a hard time coming back to the US. You may only apply if you have been outside the United States for less than 1 year at the time of turning in your application. However, you cannot assume that an overseas office will accept your application if it is evident you could have filed your Form I-131 before you left the United States.

If I file Form I-131 to get a Refugee Travel Document while I am in the United States, will USCIS deny the Form I-131 if I leave the United States while the form is still  pending?

Although USCIS recommends that you file Form I-131 while you are in the United  States, you are not required to be present in the United States for an approval and an issue of a Refugee Travel Document if you have submitted your biometrics (photograph, fingerprints).

Can I travel back to the country where I experienced past persecution or claim a fear of future persecution?

In some specific situations, you can return to the country you fled. For example, if a close family member is ill or has died, you may be eligible to return to your country of origin. But if you are an asylee or refugee and return to the place you claimed protection from, you may lose your asylum status.

If you need to return to the country you left, we recommend that you first talk to your resettlement agency or a lawyer.

For more details about the Refugee Travel Document and Form I-131, you can read or download this USCIS information. Also please  read more about your rights as a refugee.

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The information on this page comes from USCIS and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.

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