A common question for asylees (people who have been granted asylum) is whether they can travel using their home country passport. If all were right in the world, this would never be an issue. Asylees and Green Card holders who received their status based on asylum are eligible for a Refugee Travel Document, and it is best to use the RTD instead of your home country passport.

Unfortunately, the RTD is valid for only one year, takes 10 or 11 months to renew, and is not accepted by many countries. For these reasons, asylees (and people who received a Green Card based on asylum) are often unable to use the RTD and are left with a difficult choice: Either skip the trip or travel using the home country passport, which can potentially have negative implications for a person's status in the United States.

In this post, we will talk about the RTD and then discuss travel using a passport from your home country.

For asylees, the best way to travel and return to the U.S. is with an RTD. But the problems with the RTD are many. First, not all countries accept the RTD. You can find websites that purport to list nations that accept the RTD (with or without a visa), but it is unclear whether such information is reliable. The better approach is to contact the country's embassy and ask directly. Some embassy websites even have information about whether they recognize the RTD and whether a visa is required.

A second problem is that the RTD is valid for only one year and renewals currently take almost a year. If your RTD is valid and you want to renew it, you need to send the original RTD along with your application for a new travel document. While I have heard about people applying for a new RTD without sending the original, the instructions are clear on this point, and if you have a valid RTD and fail to include it with your application to renew, you risk rejection. The solution would be for USCIS to extend the validity of the RTD, an idea that has been floating around for years and whose time is long overdue.

Despite these issues, for asylees who do not yet have a Green Card, the RTD is usually the only option, since that document is required to re-enter the United States (an exception might be an asylee who also has TPS or who has applied for a Green Card based on a family relationship or employment--such people can obtain Advance Parole).

What about an asylee who has an RTD, but who uses her passport to enter a third country? This is a common scenario, since some countries do not recognize the RTD. Would an asylee be at risk of losing her status if she travels with her passport?

There are several reasons that a person's asylum status can be terminated, including two that might be relevant for our purposes: (1) if there is "a showing of fraud in the alien's application such that he or she was not eligible for asylum at the time it was granted" and (2) if the asylee "voluntarily availed himself or herself of the protection of the country of nationality... by returning to such country with permanent resident status or the reasonable possibility of obtaining such status...."

Using a passport issued by a government that seeks to harm you may raise suspicions about fraud. You could be asked to explain why you used the passport and why your home government issued you a passport in the first place. It is worth thinking about these questions before they come up, and having an explanation ready in case it is needed. One common explanation is that the home government issues passports to everyone and does not have the capacity to track political opponents and deny them passports. Evidence for this might include news stories about opposition political figures who travel abroad (presumably using their passport). If you do not fear your home government, but instead fear non-state actors (such as terrorists or violent family members), this is obviously less of a concern. Even so, be prepared to explain the situation, just in case you are asked.

There is also the issue of voluntarily availing yourself of the protection of your home country by using your passport (and thus placing yourself under the home government's protection). However, this provision only applies if you return to your home country and does not apply when you use your passport to travel to a third country. So unless you go to your home country, this should not be an issue.

Here's another scenario: You have a Green Card and a valid passport, but you do not have an RTD. Can you travel and return to the United States?

First, you can re-enter the U.S. using your Green Card, as long as your trip was for less than six months (keep in mind that any Green Card holder can abandon his residency if he spends too much time outside the United States).

Second, in terms of a risk to your status based on use of your passport, the only real issue here is whether your original asylum case was fraudulent, as discussed above. As long as the U.S. government does not conclude that the asylum case was fake, you should be fine.

In general, the risk to your status caused by using your passport is probably minimal, though it is not zero. In my own practice, I have many clients who received a Green Card based on asylum and who traveled using their passport. None has had a problem re-entering the U.S. or during the naturalization process.

For asylees and Green Card holders who received status based on asylum, it will always be better to use the RTD. However, where you must use your passport, you should be prepared to explain the situation. In this way, you can minimize any risk to your immigration status in the United States.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com