REFUGEE TRAVEL DOCUMENT: Application Guidelines

If you are a US asylee or refugee and want to keep your right to stay in the US after temporarily traveling overseas, you must apply for a refugee travel document before leaving the country. If you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) (you hold a green card) as a result of being an asylee or refugee, you can also get a refugee travel document.

What Is a Refugee Travel Document?

A refugee travel document is a form of a document issued for travel reasons to those who are recognized as refugees. Travel documents for refugees are often granted by the countries from which they seek asylum.

The majority of countries, 145 in total, that are parties to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva Convention), issue a standard travel document that is normally blue with two stripes in the upper left corner. The “Travel Document” is frequently written in English, French, and the language of the country from whence it originated, as well as the year of the convention.

Visa-Free Countries for Refugee Travel Documents

Here is a list of countries where you can enter without a visa if you have a valid refugee travel document (as defined by the 1951 Convention) and will not stay for more than three months:

  • Armenia
  • Iceland
  • Poland
  • Belgium
  • Ireland
  • Portugal
  • Cyprus
  • Italy
  • Romania
  • The Czech Republic
  • Liechtenstein
  • Slovakia
  • Denmark
  • Luxembourg
  • Spain
  • Finland
  • Malta
  • Sweden
  • France
  • Montenegro
  • Switzerland
  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • The United Kingdom
  • Hungary
  • Norway

This agreement arose as a result of travel difficulties encountered by refugees when visa accords occurred between countries, such as the Schengen agreement, in which refugees were still unable to visit these countries visa-free.

However, regardless of whether you have a genuine refugee document, each government has the authority to admit or refuse an individual in their country.

Visa-Free Countries for US Refugee Travel Document

Only the following countries are visa-free with a US refugee travel document:

  • Germany
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Cyprus
  • Montenegro

Refugee Visa-Free Countries in the United Kingdom

Prior to Brexit, holders of a UK-issued refugee travel document had visa-free travel to various EU countries. However, since Brexit was finalized, visa-free travel for refugees using a UK-issued Convention travel document is no longer valid.

Currently, EU member states have individual independence in deciding whether to enable visa travel for holders of a UK refugee travel document. Individuals who possess this document should contact the embassy of their travel destination country prior to travel to see whether they require a visa.

Visa-Free Countries for New Zealand Refugee Travel Document

You can enter these countries without a visa if you have a refugee travel document issued by New Zealand:

  • Germany*
  • Netherlands
  • Belgium
  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Cyprus
  • Montenegro

*You can enter Germany provided your travel document (RTD) is endorsed and issued in accordance with the Geneva Convention on 15 October 1946. Your travel document must also be allowed for re-entry into New Zealand.

Visa-Free Countries for Australian Refugee Travel Document

With an Australian refugee travel document, you can enter the following countries without a visa:

  • Germany
  • Slovenia
  • Hungary
  • New Zealand’s
  • Slovakia
  • Macau (visa on arrival)
  • Montenegro

You must have a temporary protection visa to obtain an Australian CTD (Convention Travel Document). It’s also worth noting that Indonesia and Taiwan do not accept visa applications with an Australian CTD, which means you can’t enter either of these countries.

Which Countries Accept Travel Documents for Refugees?

If you are a refugee under the Geneva Convention, your travel document is recognized by all countries that have signed the accord. This does not, however, imply that you can travel visa-free to any nation; you must use your travel document to apply for a visiting visa.

Please keep in mind that not every nation will accept your travel document when applying for a visa; this is typically (but not always) the case with countries that have not joined the Geneva Convention. Before you travel, you should check with the office that issued your document to see if you can apply for a visa.

Eligibility for a Refugee Travel Document

You can apply for a refugee travel document if you are physically present in the United States and are one of the following:

  • A refugee or asylum seeker, or
  • If you received your green card as an asylee or refugee, you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR).
  • In extreme cases, you may apply for this document while outside the United States. However, you must demonstrate that you were unable to register before leaving the United States because you needed to travel overseas in an emergency, and you must apply within one year after departure.

What Are the Requirements for Obtaining a Refugee Travel Document?

#1. You must be a refugee, asylum seeker, or lawful permanent resident.

To apply for a refugee travel document, you must be in the United States with refugee or asylum status. Alternatively, you must be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States who earned their status as a refugee or alysee.

You are not eligible for a refugee travel document if you have sought for refugee or asylum status and it has not yet been accepted. You are ineligible for a refugee travel document if you have any other status.

#2. You must be physically present in the United States when you file your refugee travel document application.

To be eligible for a refugee travel document, you must be present in the United States when your refugee travel document is filed, received, and accepted by USCIS. You should also stay in the United States until your biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment is finished. If you leave the United States before your biometrics appointment, your case may be denied.

If you are outside of the United States, you may be able to apply for a refugee travel document. To do so, you must file your application within one year after your last departure from the United States. So if you are applying from outside the United States, you must submit an explanation for why you left the country without first applying for a refugee travel document. Your application will be approved or denied at the discretion of the USCIS Overseas District Director with jurisdiction over your region. As a result, it is recommended practice to file for a refugee travel document before leaving the United States.

#3. Must file Form I-131, provide supporting documentation, and attend a biometrics appointment.

To be qualified for a refugee travel document, you must submit Form I-131 to USCIS along with the necessary papers. This will be covered in greater detail later in this tutorial.

You must also attend a necessary biometrics appointment to be eligible for a refugee travel document. Your digital fingerprints are taken during the biometrics appointment.

How Long is the Validity of a Refugee Travel Document?

The validity of a refugee travel document is one year from the date it is issued.

Applying for a Refugee Travel Document (Step-by-Step)

Step 1: Submit Form I-131 and any supporting documentation.

To apply for a refugee travel document, fill out Form I-131 and submit it to USCIS. Application for Travel Document (Form I-131). As previously stated, it is best practice to be physically present in the United States when filing this form. Otherwise, there is a larger chance that the application will be denied.

Step 2: Go to the Biometrics Appointment.

Following the submission of the I-131, USCIS will issue you a notice requiring you to attend a mandatory biometrics appointment. Your digital fingerprints are recorded during the biometrics appointment. This is a required step in order to obtain a refugee travel document.

Processing Time for Refugee Travel Documents

This response is best broken into four sections:

#1. Issuance of a Receipt Notice from USCIS (1 to 3 weeks from Filing)

When you file Form I-131 with USCIS, you will receive a receipt notice. The receipt notice from USCIS confirms that your application was received and accepted. Furthermore, the receipt message includes a unique receipt number. You can trace the status of your application using the USCIS case status checker and your receipt number. The receipt notice should arrive within 1 to 3 weeks of submitting the refugee travel document application.

#2. Notification of Biometrics Appointment (6 Weeks from Filing)

USCIS will send you a biometrics appointment notice about 6 weeks after you file your refugee travel document application. The biometrics appointment notice includes the appointment time, date, and location. This message also includes advice on what you must bring to the biometrics appointment. You may reschedule the biometrics session if necessary by following the instructions on the appointment announcement.

#3. Appointment for Biometrics (8 Weeks from Filing)

Your actual biometrics appointment will be scheduled approximately 8 weeks after you file your refugee travel document application. Bring a valid I.D. as well as the genuine biometrics appointment notice to the appointment (along with any other documents specified on the appointment notice).

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

Your actual refugee travel document will be issued approximately 2 to 5 months after you file Form I-131. So, you can have the travel document delivered to your home address in the United States, a US consulate or embassy abroad, or your immigration lawyer’s office (if you are working with an immigration lawyer).

You are not compelled to stay in the United States until you acquire your physical travel document. Also, you may depart after your biometrics appointment if necessary. You can then have the travel document mailed to the above-mentioned US consulate or embassy abroad.

Is it possible to shorten the time it takes to process refugee travel documents?

Yes, the USCIS may offer accelerated processing of a refugee travel document application under specific circumstances. So, it is entirely up to USCIS whether or not to expedite a case.

The following are some of the reasons why USCIS may expedite a case:

  • Emergency
  • A significant financial loss to a corporation or individual
  • USCIS blunder
  • Inspiring USCIS interest
  • Humanitarian considerations

What Documents Should You Include in Your Refugee Travel Document Application?

The specific documentation you must provide with your refugee travel document application will vary depending on your situation. With that disclaimer in the document, here are some general documents to include:

  • A copy of a legitimate government-issued picture identification document (such as a passport, lawful permanent resident card, or driver’s license)
  • A copy of the USCIS document proving your refugee or asylum status, as well as the date the status expires.
  • 2 passport photographs

What are the Fees for a Refugee Travel Document?

When applying for a refugee travel document, there are two fees:

  • I-131 Filing Fee: $135 for those over the age of 16 and $105 for those under the age of 16.
  • Fee for biometrics: $85 (the biometrics fee is only required for people from the ages of 14 to 79 years old)

How Long Does a Refugee Travel Document Last?

According to the Geneva Convention, refugee travel permits should be valid for two to three years. However, not every country will release the document on the same day.

A refugee travel document issued by the UK, for example, may be valid for up to ten years if you have indefinite leave to remain, whereas a travel document granted by Australia is good for one to two years.

Returning to the Country of Alleged Persecution

Returning to your claimed persecution country can have serious ramifications for your refugee or asylum status in the United States.

If you obtain asylum in the United States and return to the country where you allege persecution, your asylum status may be terminated. So, returning to your claimed persecution nation could be interpreted as a change in circumstances underlying your grant of refuge. Also, it could be interpreted as proof that your fear of persecution is unfounded. Furthermore, it is possible that you have willingly invoked the protection of your country of nationality.

Because of these potential implications, it is recommended to avoid returning to your alleged persecution nation.


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