How to Get a Refugee Travel Document

A refugee travel document looks like a passport, but it isn’t a passport. If you’re legally present in the United States though, you’ll need it if you intend on reentering this country. The refugee travel document doesn’t even assure you of reentry into the United States. You must first clear reinspection with Customs and Border Patrol officials. Without that refugee travel document though, you could be confronted with removal proceedings.

Who Needs a Refugee Travel Document?

Two types of people are going to need a refugee travel document. The first are those who have status as a refugee or asylee but don’t hold a green card. The second are those who derived their status while in the United States who became permanent resident as a refugee or asylee while in the United States. Somebody who has applied for refugee or asylum status who has yet to have it approved isn’t eligible. He or she must also be physically in the United States at all times during the issuance process. That includes the biometric phase of the process too.

Exception to Presence in the United States

A person might apply for a refugee travel document when he or she is outside of the United States, but it’s risky. The application must be filed within one year of leaving the country, and a written explanation of why they left the United States without obtaining permission must accompany the application.  Then, it’s up to the Overseas District Director of the jurisdiction that you’re in to exercise his discretion. Again, it’s far more preferable to apply for the refugee travel document while in this country. A Form I-131 and all documentation can be filed and considered, along with the biometrics appointment. The document is then good for one year after date of issuance.

Processing Time

After the form I-131 is filed with the USCIS, you’re issued a receipt notice which operates as a receipt notice of confirmation and receipt that the application has been received. The receipt notice also has an individual number that can be used to track progress on the application. This takes one to three weeks. After around eight weeks, you’ll receive a biometrics appointment. The notice states what must be brought to the appointment. Bring your biometrics appointment and a valid identification with you.

Issuance of the Travel Document

The actual travel document will be issued between two and five months after the application is received. You can have it delivered to you, your attorney or to an embassy abroad. You aren’t required to stay in this country to await the document. In fact, you can leave here as soon as you’ve completed the biometrics. There’s less risk, but still some risk by proceeding in this manner. In some cases, the travel document can be expedited. Those are generally emergencies or circumstances that might result in severe loss to the individual or a company.

Documents to Submit with My Application

These generally vary given the wide range of circumstances surrounding refugees and asylees. At a very minimum they should include the following when applying for a travel document:

  • A copy of a valid government photo identification.
  • A copy of a USCIS document reflecting the status of a refugee or asylee with expiration date.
  • Two passport sized photos.
  • Fees are $135 for ages 16 or over and $105 for 16 or younger. On top of those is an $85 biometrics fee for those between 14 and 79 years of age.

A refugee or asylee travel document is strongly recommended if you plan on leaving the United States. Entry into the United States can be refused or, removal proceedings can be brought. This country can also terminate your asylum status. It could also be viewed upon as an unfounded fear of persecution or relying on the protection of your country. If you have been granted asylee or refugee status in the United States, it’s far better to stay here than to take chances.