Seeking asylum can be a lengthy process and you may be waiting for months until you hear back from USCIS. You may be wondering if you can leave the country while seeking asylum for personal reasons such as:
- The death of a family member
- Critical illness of a close relative
- Serious medical reasons
- Other humanitarian reason(s)
An asylum applicant should be cautious and it is strongly recommended that you not travel out of the country while your case is pending. Although asylum seekers can leave the United States, there is no law that prohibits them from leaving the country, but they may be putting their asylum case at risk.
If you need to travel, consult with an immigration attorney, and they will be able to advise you before you make that decision and leave the U.S.
What is a Refugee Travel Document?
If you plan to travel outside the United States and have been granted “Refugee Status” or “Asylum Status”, you are required to have a Refugee Travel Document in order to get back into the country. First, you will need to complete and file Form I-131 (Application for Refugee Travel Document). It is recommended that you file at least 60 days prior to leaving the United States. Since you’re claiming asylum from your home country and cannot use your personal passport, the U.S. requires that you use the Refugee Travel Document which substitutes for a passport. Processing times for these applications take approximately three months, expedited processing is available for specific cases.
When you submit your application, USCIS will contact you to attend a Biometric appointment. If for some reason you fail to attend, your application will be denied.
For more, visit www.uscis.gov or call Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283 to learn about filing the travel document.
What is an Advanced Parole Document?
Advance Parole is a type of travel document for applicants who have certain pending USCIS applications or immigration statuses. Advance parole is also available for asylum applicants who need to travel while their case is pending.
If you are an asylum applicant and your case is pending, you are not eligible to obtain a Refugee Travel Document. Instead, you will need to apply for an Advance Parole Document. This document is a temporary travel authorization for asylees returning to the United States without a visa after traveling out of the country.
To apply for an Advanced Parole Document, you need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document and it must be approved before you leave the country. This document takes approximately 3-5 months to arrive, so do not make plans to leave beforehand. If you file and leave the United States without having this approval document, USCIS will consider your Form I-131 and other pending cases abandoned.
If you need to travel abroad due to an emergency, read the Emergency Travel page for additional information.
You do not need an advanced parole document to travel to in and within parts of the United States.
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
- Swains Island
- Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)
If you are traveling to one of these destinations, make sure it’s a direct flight with no layovers, as you want to avoid ending up outside the states.
When traveling abroad even with approval and an Advance Parole Document, this does not guarantee that you can return to the United States. Even if you have a pending asylum application, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer may deny your re-entry at a U.S. port if they believe that the applicant is inadmissible to the U.S. and may be placed in removal proceedings. Before leaving the United States, you need to decide whether it's necessary to take the risk.
Can I Return to the Country I Am Seeking Asylum From?
Returning to your country of origin that you initially fled from because of a well-founded fear of persecution on an account of a protected ground is highly discouraged.
If you decide to return, USCIS may suspect that you may have filed a fraudulent application and that you’ve abandoned your asylum application.
If you entered the United States with a “Refugee Status”, you will need to explain your travel to USCIS to avoid losing your refugee status. However, there is also a chance that you may face serious consequences and your status may be terminated.
If your asylum status has been granted and you voluntarily decide to return for whatever reason, it will be noted that you do not need protection and are no longer eligible for asylum due to circumstances or changes in your home country.
There have been cases where the circumstances change in the applicant's home country, and they decide to return. If this is the case, it's best to notify USCIS and cancel your asylum application. You do not want to run into issues obtaining a visa and traveling to the U.S in the future.
How Long is the Travel Document Valid For?
Once your travel document is approved, it is valid for up to one year. Depending on the case, USCIS may approve parole for a single use or for multiple uses depending on your immigration status.
The single-use is valid only for one planned trip on specific dates. The multiple-use documents are generally valid multiple times.
After one year, you cannot renew your travel document, instead, you’ll need to re-apply for a new one.
Leave the Country While Seeking Asylum FAQs
Can I Leave the Country While Seeking Asylum?
It is strongly recommended that you do not travel outside of the United States while your application is pending, however, if there is a valid reason that you need to, ensure to speak to your attorney beforehand. The attorney will be able to look at your case and advise you if it’s in your best interest. They will also help you begin filing the proper forms. If you have been granted asylum or refugee, you will need to submit Form I-131 for a refugee travel document. Otherwise, you would need to submit Form I-131 to apply for advance parole if you have an asylum case pending with no decision.
Can I Go Back to My Country If I am a Refugee?
It is not recommended to travel to your home country where you claimed you were fearful of returning and feared persecution. In fact, most immigration attorneys discourage it because it may affect your asylum status and/or application. USCIS may presume that you submitted a fraudulent application, and you may need to answer questions based on your travels.
Can I Travel If I Have a Pending Immigration Case?
This depends. Asylum applicants may travel anywhere within the United States, but traveling abroad should be avoided. If you need to travel for personal or family-related reasons, you should apply for an Advanced Parole Document. Once approved then you may leave. Keep in mind that re-entry is not guaranteed.