Refugee Travel Document

Refugee Travel Document

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What is a Refugee Travel Document?

A Refugee Travel Document is a travel document issued by USCIS to refugees and asylees physically present in the U.S.

Refugee Travel Document is used by individuals who have been granted refugee or asylee status and need to travel outside of the U.S. temporarily.

The Refugee Travel Document serves as a substitute for a passport and allows the holder to travel internationally. 

It is important to note that individuals holding refugee or asylee status who travel to their countries of nationality may jeopardize their refugee or asylee status, as returning to the country from which they fled may indicate a change in circumstances.

It’s important for individuals with refugee or asylee status to first obtain a Refugee Travel Document prior to traveling outside the U.S. and be aware of any travel restrictions or considerations before traveling internationally.

Who is eligible to apply for a Refugee Travel Document?

The following individuals are eligible to apply for a Refugee Travel Document (Form I-131):

  • Refugee or Asylee Status:
    • The applicants who have been granted refugee or asylee status in the U.S.
  • Green Card Holders:
    • Individuals who obtained permanent residency based on refugee or asylee status.

How to apply for a Refugee Travel Document – general rules

Before applying for a Refugee Travel Document, you must be aware of the following general rules:

  • You must apply for a Refugee Travel Document BEFORE you leave the U.S.
  • If USCIS schedules a biometrics appointment, you must attend it in the U.S. Failure to attend the biometrics appointment will result in denial of your Refugee Travel Document application.
  • You must have a valid Refugee Travel Document when you return to the U.S. after a temporary overseas travel.
  • If you travel to the country of claimed persecution, the U.S. government might terminate your asylee or refugee status.
  • USCIS can send the Refugee Travel Document to the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Consulate, or DHS office abroad if you request it on Form I-131
  • A new Refugee Travel Document cannot be issued if you have a previously issued valid Refugee Travel Document (unless it was returned to USCIS or it was lost)

How to apply for a Refugee Travel Document online

The process of applying for a Refugee Travel Document (Form I-131) online involves the following steps:

Step 1. Create an online USCIS account if you do not have one.

Step 2. From the “My account” dropdown menu, select “File a form online”. Choose “Form I-131”.

Step 3. Carefully answer all of the questions and upload scanned copies of the documents requested. See the checklist of required documents below.

Step 4. Review your answers, make sure that all the requested documents are uploaded and submit the application. You will pay the filing fee online using a credit card. Note: If you have paid Form I-485 filing fees, you do not need to pay the Form I-131 filing fee. If you are applying for a Refugee Travel Document based on a pending adjustment of status, include a copy of the Form I-485 receipt notice.

Step 5. Download the Form I-131 receipt notice from “Your cases” – “Documents” – “USCIS Notices”. Hard copy notice will arrive by mail within a couple of weeks.

Step 6. Wait for USCIS processing: you can track the status of your case in your online account. If USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE), you can upload your request to RFE directly to your online account.

Step 7. If approved, you will have access to approval notice in your online account. The original Refugee Travel Document will arrive by mail. Carry this document with you when traveling outside the U.S. It is essential for re-entry. Be ready for a CBP interview when you leave the U.S. and explain the reasons for your international trip. 

Step 8. Re-enter the U.S.: Use the Refugee Travel Document to re-enter the U.S. before its expiration date. Keep in mind that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the port of entry will determine your admissibility and will ask you questions about the countries visited.

How to apply for a Refugee Travel Document by mail

The process of applying for a Refugee Travel Document (Form I-131) by mail involves the following steps:

Step 1. Download the Form I-131:

  • Obtain the latest edition of Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, from the USCIS website.
  • USCIS will reject any outdated editions of Form I-131

Step 2. Gather Supporting Documents:

  • Collect all the necessary supporting documents (see the checklist below). Unless directed otherwise, submit only photocopies of the documents.

Step 3. Complete the Form:

  • Fill out the form accurately and completely. Sign and date the form in ink
  • USCIS does not accept computer-generated or stamped signatures
  • Fill out and submit Form G-1145 to receive an electronic notification (text message or email) containing USCIS receipt number 
  • Check out the Form I-131 Instructions, How to Fill Out

Step 4. Filing fee payment:

  • Check the USCIS website for the most current filing fee
  • Note: If you have paid Form I-485 filing fees, you do not need to pay the Form I-131 filing fee. If you are applying for a Refugee Travel Document based on a pending adjustment of status, include a copy of the Form I-485 receipt notice or you can file Forms I-485 and I-131 concurrently (at the same time). If filing concurrently, Form I-131 is mailed to the same address as Form I-485 together in one packet
  • Acceptable forms of payment include: money order, personal check, cashier’s check or credit card payment (fill out Form G-1450)
  • If paying by check, the check must be payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Step 5. Mail the Application:

  • Once the form is completed and the supporting documents are gathered, filing fee payment is submitted (if required), mail the entire package to the correct filing address (“Where to File” section).
  • If you are applying for Adjustment of Status, Form I-131 can be mailed together with Form I-485 application in the same packet to the correct I-485 filing address.
  • It’s recommended to mail the application via express mail with a tracking number

Step 6. Check Application Status:

  • If you submitted Form G-1145 with your application, 1 week after the submission you will receive a text message or email from USCIS with your Form I-131 receipt notice. Check your spam folder.
  • USCIS will mail the receipt notice 2-3 weeks after the submission date
  • You can track the status of your application online by entering the Form I-131 receipt number 

Step 7. Wait for Processing:

  • USCIS will process your application, and if additional information or document is needed, an RFE notice will be mailed to you. Once processed, you will receive a decision on your application by mail.
  • The original Refugee Travel Document will arrive by mail. Carry this document with you when traveling outside the U.S. It is essential for re-entry.

Step 8. Re-enter the United States: 

  • Use the Refugee Travel Document to re-enter the U.S. before its expiration date. Keep in mind that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the port of entry will determine your admissibility and ask questions about the purpose of your international travel and countries you have visited.

Refugee Travel Document filing fees

The filing fee for a Refugee Travel Document (Form I-131, Application for Travel Document) depends on your filing category and age:

Application category

Filing fee

Pending Adjustment of Status applications 
  • $0 (if filing with Form I-485 concurrently, or you have already paid the Form I-485 filing fee)

All other applicants (not based on Form I-485)

13 or younger
  • $105
14 or 15
  • $105 + $85 biometrics fee = $190
16 to 79
  • $135 $85 biometrics fee = $220
80 or older
  • $135

If applying for a Refugee Travel Document online, the filing fee can be paid online using a credit or debit card.

If submitting a Refugee Travel Document application by mail, acceptable forms of payment include:

  • Money order
  • Personal check
  • Cashier’s check, or
  • Credit card payment (for credit card payments, fill out Form G-1450)

USCIS fees are subject to change, check the latest Form I-131 filing fee on the USCIS website.

Refugee Travel Document checklist of required documents

The following documents must be submitted with your Refugee Travel Document application (submit photocopies only):

Evidence required

Examples of acceptable documents

Completed and signed Form I-131
  • Download the most recent edition of Form I-131 on USCIS website
  • Answer all questions
  • Sign and date the form
  • Unsigned, undated or outdated editions of Form I-131 will be rejected by USCIS
G-1145 form (optional)
  • Fill out Form G-1145 if you want to receive a text or email from USCIS containing Form I-131 receipt notice
  • Put a completed Form G-1145 on top of your application
Filing fee
  • $0 – No filing fee is required for pending Adjustment of Status applicants
  • Fee varies for all other applicants (see above)
Official photo ID document An official photo ID document showing your photo, name and date of birth (front and back of ID).

Submit a photocopy of the following documents that clearly shows your face: 

  • Passport
  • Valid government-issued driver’s license
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • State ID
  • Foreign ID
Proof of asylee or refugee status
  • USCIS asylum approval notice
  • Immigration judge asylum grant notice
  • Form I-94 confirming asylee or refugee status
Previous Refugee Travel Documents (if applicable)
  • If you have previously been issued Refugee Travel Documents, include copies of the documents

How long will a Refugee Travel Document be valid for?

If approved, a Refugee Travel Document will be valid for 1 year. It can’t be extended. 

USCIS will deny your Form I-131 application, if you still have a previously issued valid Refugee Travel Document.

Refugee Travel Document processing times

According to the official USCIS processing times published on their website, it can take about 17.5 months for a Refugee Travel Document to be issued.

Processing times can vary based on factors such as complexity of the case, whether a Request for Evidence (RFE) is issued or not, and the workload at the specific USCIS service center.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information on Form I-131 processing times, you can visit the USCIS Processing Times page, choose “Form I-131”, choose “Refugee Travel Document” and select your service center. 

The service center handling your application can be found in the lower left corner of Form I-131 receipt notice.

You cannot choose the USCIS service center that will process your application.

Can I travel outside the U.S. before a Refugee Travel Document is approved?

According to the official USCIS instructions, you can travel outside the U.S. after you properly filed Form I-131 and attended the scheduled biometrics appointment but before a Refugee Travel Document is issued.

Leaving the U.S. prior to Form I-131 decision usually does not affect the application decision.

However, it takes a significant period of time for USCIS to issue a Refugee Travel Document (up to 17.5 months according to some data). 

It’s recommended to apply for a Refugee Travel Document early and have it available when you re-enter the U.S.

Related Links:

Form I-131 – How to Apply for a Travel Document

Form I-131 Instructions, How to Fill Out

Advance Parole