I won asylum and need to travel abroad next week. Can I?

Applying for a refugee travel document when departure is imminent.

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Question

I am a citizen of Bangladesh and a human rights activist. I have asylum in the United States. The organization I work for wants me to speak at a conference in Ethiopia next week. Can I travel to the conference on such short notice?

Answer

Based on your having been granted asylum, you can apply for a refugee travel document with which to travel abroad. Once you have obtained it, you should be able to use the refugee travel document in the same way as a passport. Instructions for submitting the application can be found in Nolo’s article “Applying for a Refugee Travel Document.”

Your imminent departure is a bit of a complicating factor, however. A refugee travel document ordinarily takes 60 days or more to be processed. Since you need to travel next week, the best thing to do would likely be to file the I-131 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before you leave and ask that the document be sent to the U.S. Consulate in Ethiopia, where you will be speaking.

If you were to leave the United States without first applying for the refugee travel document, you could attempt to apply for one outside of the United States. However, it is up to the immigration offices in each individual country to decide whether or not to accept such an application.

Leaving the United States without the refugee travel document in hand, however, can also be risky, since you must successfully obtain it before attempting to re-enter the United States. Hiring an attorney for help with this might be a good idea, particularly because the attorney will be a convenient contact point for USCIS in case it has questions or follow-up requests with regard to your I-131 application.

Once approved, your refugee travel document will be valid for up to one year. It cannot be extended or renewed once you are outside of the United States.

You may use the refugee travel document to travel to any country except for the country where you were persecuted or fear persecution. If you return to that country you may be denied re-entry to the U.S. or your asylum status may be terminated.

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