Refugee Travel Document Guide: How to Get a Refugee Travel Document

Refugee Travel Document


If you are in the United States in refugee or asylum status, you will need to apply for a refugee travel document if you wish to travel outside of the United States. A refugee travel document is a small booklet, similar to a passport, and is used by refugees and asylees to reenter the United States after traveling abroad. If you are in the U.S. on refugee or asylum status and you leave without a refugee travel document, you may be unable to reenter the U.S., or you may be placed in removal proceedings.


In this guide, I’ll explain how to apply for a refugee travel document. If you have any questions, feel free to email me directly at




  1. What is a Refugee Travel Document and Why Do You Need One?


  1. Who is Eligible to Apply for a Refugee Travel Document?


  1. What are the Requirements to Get a Refugee Travel Document?


  1. How to Apply for a Refugee Travel Document (Step-by-Step)


  1. How Long is a Refugee Travel Document Valid For?


  1. Refugee Travel Document Processing Time


  1. Is There Any Way to Speed-Up the Refugee Travel Document Processing Time?


  1. What Documents to Submit with Your Refugee Travel Document Application


  1. What is the Refugee Travel Document Fee?


  1. Traveling Back to the Country of Claimed Persecution


  1. Conclusion



1. What is a Refugee Travel Document and Why Do You Need One?



A refugee travel document is a small booklet, similar to a passport. It has multiple pages and in certain situations, can be used instead of a passport. If you are lawfully present in the United States in refugee of asylum status, and you plan to travel abroad, you need a refugee travel document to reenter the United States. Without a refugee travel document, you may be unable to reenter the country and you may even face removal proceedings.


Please keep in mind that a refugee travel document does not guarantee that you will be readmitted to the United States. You still must undergo inspection by a Customs and Border Patrol officer.


2. Who is Eligible to Apply for a Refugee Travel Document?


  • Individuals in refugee or asylum status


  • Lawful permanent residents who obtained their permanent resident status as a refugee or asylee in the U.S.


3. What are the Requirements to Get a Refugee Travel Document?


1. Must be a refugee or asylee or lawful permanent resident


To apply for a refugee travel document, you must either be in the U.S. in refugee or asylum status. Alternatively, you must be a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) who obtained their lawful permanent resident status as a refugee or alysee.


If you have applied for refugee or asylum status and it is not yet approved, you are not eligible for a refugee travel document. If you are in any other status, you are ineligible for a refugee travel document.


2. Must be physically present in the U.S. when your refugee travel document application is filed


To qualify for a refugee travel document, you should be in the United States when your refugee travel document is filed, received, and accepted by USCIS. Additionally, you should remain in the U.S. until your biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment is completed. Leaving the U.S. before your biometrics appointment may result in a denial of your case.


In some cases, you may be eligible to apply for a refugee travel document if you are outside of the United States. To do this, your application must be filed within 1 year of your last departure from the United States. If you are applying from outside of the United States, you will have to include with your application an explanation of why you left the U.S. without first applying for a refugee travel document. The USCIS Overseas District Director with jurisdiction over your region will have discretion regarding whether to approve or deny your application. For this reason, it is best practice to apply for a refugee travel document before you leave the U.S.


3. Must file Form I-131, submit the required supporting documents, and attend a biometrics appointment


To be eligible for a refugee travel document you must submit a Form I-131 to USCIS and include the required documentation with your case. We will discuss this in more detail later in this guide.


To qualify for a refugee travel document, you must also attend a mandatory biometrics appointment. The biometrics appointment is where your digital fingerprints are taken.


4. How Long is a Refugee Travel Document Valid For?


A refugee travel document is valid for 1 year from the date it is issued.


5. How to Apply for a Refugee Travel Document (Step-by-Step)


Step 1. File Form I-131 Along with Supporting Documents


To apply for a refugee travel document, you must file a Form I-131 with USCIS. The Form I-131 is Application for Travel Document. As mentioned earlier, it is best practice to be physically present in the U.S. when this form is filed. Otherwise, there is greater potential for the application to be denied.


Step 2. Attend Biometrics Appointment


After the I-131 is filed, USCIS will send you a notice requiring you to attend a mandatory biometrics appointment. The biometrics appointment I where your digital fingerprints are recorded. This is a mandatory step to get a refugee travel document.


6. Refugee Travel Document Processing Time


This answer is best divided into 4 separate segments:


1. Issuance of USCIS Receipt Notice (1 to 3 Weeks from Filing)


Once you file the Form I-131 with USCIS, you are issued a receipt notice. The receipt notice is the confirmation from USCIS that your application was received and accepted. In addition, the receipt notice contains a unique receipt number. You can use your receipt number to track the progress of your application through the USCIS case status checker. You should receive the receipt notice within 1 to 3 weeks of filing the refugee travel document application.


2. Issuance of Biometrics Appointment Notice (6 Weeks from Filing)


About 6 weeks after filing your refugee travel document application, you will receive a biometrics appointment notice from USCIS. The biometrics appointment notice contains the time, date, and location of the biometrics appointment. This notice also contains instructions regarding what you must bring with you to the biometrics appointment. If needed, you may reschedule the biometrics appointment by following the instructions on the appointment notice.



3. Biometrics Appointment Date (8 Weeks from Filing)


Your actual biometrics appointment will take place about 8 weeks after filing your refugee travel document application. Make sure to bring a valid I.D. along with the actual biometrics appointment notice with you to the appointment (along with any other documents specified on the appointment notice).


4. Issuance of Refugee Travel Document (2 to 5 Months from Filing)


Your actual refugee travel document will be issued about 2 to 5 months from the date you file the Form I-131. You may choose to have the travel document delivered to your U.S. address, to a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad, or to your immigration lawyers office (if you are working with an immigration lawyer).


You are not required to remain in the U.S. until you receive the physical travel document. If necessary, you may leave after completing your biometrics appointment. You can then have the travel document sent to a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad as mentioned above.


7. Is There Any Way to Speed-Up the Refugee Travel Document Processing Time?


Yes, in certain situations, USCIS may grant expedited processing of a refugee travel document application. Here is a link that goes over the situations in which USICS may grant expedited processing of a case. It is at the discretion of USCIS whether or not to expedite a case.


Here are some reasons USCIS may expedite a case:


  • Emergency
  • Severe financial loss to a company or individual
  • USCIS error
  • Compelling USCIS interest
  • Humanitarian reasons


8. What Documents to Submit with Your Refugee Travel Document Application


The specific documents you should submit with your refugee travel document application will depend on your particular case. With that disclaimer, here are some general document you should include:


  • Copy of valid government issued photo I.D. (such as passport, lawful permanent resident card, driver’s license)


  • Copy of USCIS document showing your status as a refugee or asylee and the date the status expires.


  • 2 passport photos


9. What is the Refugee Travel Document Fee?

There are 2 fees associated with applying for a refugee travel document:


  • I-131 Filing Fee: ($135 for people age 16 and older and $105 for people under 16 years old)


  • Biometrics Fee: $85 (the biometrics fee is only required for people from the ages of 14 to 79 years old)


10. Traveling Back to the Country of Claimed Persecution


Traveling back to your country of claimed persecution can have severe consequences to your refugee or asylum status in the United States.


If you have asylum status in the United States and you travel back to your country of claimed persecution, your asylum status may be terminated. Traveling back to your country of claimed persecution could be seen as a change of circumstances surrounding your grant of asylum. Alternatively, it could be seen as a demonstration that your fear of persecution is not genuine. In addition, it may be seen that you have voluntarily availed yourself of the protection of your country of nationality.


Due to these potential consequences, it is best practice to avoid travel back to your country of claimed persecution.


11. Conclusion


A refugee travel document is necessary if you are in refugee or asylum status in the U.S. and you plan to leave the country. Without a refugee travel document, travel outside of the U.S. could result in an inability to return to the U.S. and may also result in being placed in removal proceedings. For these reasons, a refugee travel document is highly important. If you need assistance applying for your refugee travel document, feel free to email me directly at I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer, and I would be happy to help you.








  • USCIS Fact Sheet Re: Traveling Outside the United States as an Asylum Applicant, an Asylee, or a Lawful Permanent Resident Who Obtained Such Status Based on Asylum Status


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Michael Ashoori, Esq.

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