The Regulatory Leash of the One-Year Refugee Travel Document

By Paulina Sosa

Asylees, refugees, and some Lawful Permanent Residents must obtain a Refugee Travel Document (RTD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to travel abroad. These non-citizens cannot use passports from their home country, as doing so could result in a loss of their asylee or refugee status. RTDs are only valid for one year and must be renewed annually until the non-citizen naturalizes, if their holders plan to travel abroad. Because most countries require that a tourist’s travel document have a minimum remaining validity of anywhere from three months to one year, RTD holders are inhibited from completing their business or personal travel for many months out of the year.

Part I of this Note introduces the problem of the one-year validity period and discusses the relevant terms and concepts pertaining to asylum and refugee classifications. Part II then discusses the history of refugee travel documents before and after the enactment of the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the related 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees before examining how the United States and other countries comply with their obligations under the Protocol. Part III delves further into the processes of applying for, obtaining, and using a refugee travel document. Part IV discusses how refugee travel documents affect two different kinds of rights: the limited right of reentry into the United States and the right to international travel, both of which also vary according to immigration status. Part V argues for an increased validity period of at least two years and outlines how the change could impact asylees, refugees, and lawful permanent residents. Finally, Part VI outlines the potential barriers to implementing the proposed regulatory reform, such as national security policy and political will.

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