This guide provides an overview of who qualifies for a Refugee Travel Document (RTD) and how to apply for one.
RTD is a travel document issued by USCIS to:
- Refugees resettled to the United States.
- People with approved asylum status in the United States.
- Lawful Permanent Residents who obtained their green card based on their refugee or asylum status.
An RTD allows you to re-enter the U.S. after you travel outside the U.S. Visit USCIS’ guide about RTDs for more information.
RTDs are not available to people who:
- Have applied for asylum in the United States but do not have approved asylum status yet. People in that situation should apply for advance parole. Information from USCIS on applying for advance parole is here.
- People who have green cards based on another status.
Do I need a Refugee Travel Document?
People with refugee and approved asylum status might need an RTD for two reasons.
- International travel
Many people in the U.S. with refugee or asylum status do not have a passport from their country. A refugee travel document is like a passport. It is a document for international travel.
Note that if you travel to your home country, your refugee or asylum status may be terminated. People get refugee status or asylum status because they would be in danger to return to their home country. If you go back to your home country, the U.S. government might think that you are not in danger. This could cause problems for you later, including when you apply for a green card or to be a U.S. citizen.
- Return to the United States
An RTD is also essential for people with refugee or asylum status to return to the United States after they travel. If you have refugee or asylum status and travel outside the U.S. without getting an RTD, you may not be able to re-enter the U.S. You can apply for an RTD outside the U.S. However, it is strongly recommended that people with refugee and asylum status get an RTD before traveling outside the U.S.
This means that an RTD is important even if you have a passport. This changes after getting a green card. A legal permanent resident can re-enter the United States with a green card, without the need for a visa. But even legal permanent residents must not stay outside the United States for too long. For more information, read USCIS’ guide on international travel as a permanent resident.
How do I apply for a Refugee Travel Document?
To obtain an RTD, you must file Form I-131 Application for Travel Document. Include the required fee and all supportive evidence for your application. You should file this at least 60 days before you will travel outside of the United States.
After you file the Form I-131, USCIS will send you a letter that tells you where to go for USCIS to take your fingerprints. USCIS calls this taking your biometrics. Biometrics are identifying physical traits.
If you apply in the United States and leave before you complete your biometrics, your application will be denied. However, you can request in your application that USCIS send your RTD abroad for you to pick up at an official U.S. office outside the U.S.
The RTD is valid for a year from the date it was issued.
I travelled outside the U.S. without an RTD
USCIS strongly recommends that you apply for an RTD in the United States. You may still be able to obtain an RTD while abroad if you apply to the USCIS Refugee and International Operations office within a year of departure. Their address is available here. However, USCIS has the discretion to accept or deny your application. You will need to explain why you were not able to file for an RTD before you departed the U.S. in your application.
If it has been over a year since your departure, you are not eligible for an RTD. In some situations, you can consider applying for Humanitarian Parole. IRAP’s guide on humanitarian parole is here.
You or your relative may want to ask an immigration attorney for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
- Information about asking for help from IRAP is here.
- If you are in Jordan, you can ask for IRAP Jordan’s help using this form. If the form is closed, you can check back at a later date.
- A list of free immigration legal service providers in the United States is available here.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here.