Immigration Form I-131: What You Need to Know

An Application for Travel Document, or Form I-131, is a form from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows applicants to apply for a travel document. Travel documents are used by individuals who are legally in the United States, but wish to temporarily travel outside the United States.

Unlike many other immigration forms, Form I-131 can be considered one of the “easier” forms to complete. However, it is also one of the more “dangerous” forms in that it is used to travel outside the United States. So if you have an unknown immigration issue, you could still obtain your requested travel document, but be unable to return to the United States after leaving. Let’s repeat that. You can leave…but maybe not get back into the United States. Therefore, consultation with an immigration attorney who can carefully analyze your case will be essential.

When is Form I-131 Needed?

Form I-131 is necessary when an individual needs a Reentry Permit, Refugee Travel Document or Advance Parole Document. Each of these have the primary objective of allowing an individual who has some form of legal status in the United States to leave the country and return without issue.

A Reentry Permit is a travel document that allows permanent residents (Green Card holders) to travel outside the United States for an extended period of time (usually one year) without establishing a location other than the United States as a permanent home. This is important because if it appears that a permanent resident is not calling the United States his or her permanent home, it can raise some issues with US immigration authorities and potentially result in the Green Card holder losing permanent resident status.

A Refugee Travel Document is used by an individual who has refugee or asylum status, or is a Green Card holder on the basis of being a refugee or asylee. The Refugee Travel Document can generally be used like a US passport that a citizen or US national would use while traveling. One reason the Refugee Travel Document exists is because many refugees and asylees are unable to obtain a passport from their home country.

An Advance Parole Document is similar to a Reentry Permit in that it allows those already legally in the United States to travel abroad and reenter the country. Advance Parole only applies to those who are not US citizens, permanent residents or have valid immigrant visas, but have pending applications for immigrant benefits. If an individual with a pending application leaves the United States without obtaining Advance Parole, it will usually result in US immigration authorities denying the application on the basis that the applicant has abandoned it, even if this is not the intention of the applicant. The most common use for an Advance Parole Document is when an individual has a pending Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and wishes to travel abroad.

Description of Form I-131

Form I-131 consists of five pages. The following nine Parts make up Form I-131:

  • Part 1: Basic information about the applicant.

  • Part 2: The applicant declares what he or she is applying for.

  • Part 3: How the travel document should sent to the applicant.

  • Part 4: Details about the intended trip outside the United States.

  • Part 5: Information for Reentry Permit applicants only.

  • Part 6: Information for Refugee Travel Document applicants only.

  • Part 7: Information for Advance Parole applicants only.

  • Part 8: Signature of applicant.

  • Part 9: If someone helped the applicant complete Form I-131, they will sign and certify this section, as well as explain who they are and how they can be contacted.

When to Hire an Attorney to Help Complete Form I-131

The first four Parts from Form I-131 are relatively straightforward, but once the applicant gets to Parts 5, 6 or 7, it is recommended that they hire an immigration attorney.

If Part 5 must be completed by an applicant who must answer “yes” to question 2, consulting with an immigration lawyer is more than merely a good idea. That’s because Green Card holders must pay federal income taxes even though they are not US citizens. By answering “yes,” the applicant is admitting that they have either not filed a federal tax return or did so as a nonresident, even though they were a permanent resident. This can be extremely problematic.

Part 6 applies to applicants seeking a Refugee Travel Document and if the applicant must answer “yes” to any of the questions, seeking legal assistance of an immigration attorney is recommended. This is because the applicant has refugee or asylee status, which essentially indicates they had to flee their home country and cannot return. However, answering “yes” to any of the relevant questions in Part 6 may potentially undermine the applicant’s refugee or asylee status. Therefore, getting legal advice from an immigration attorney to help explain the situation on a separate sheet of paper is strongly recommended.

Part 7 only applies to applicants seeking Advance Parole. An attorney’s help will be useful for explaining on a separate sheet of paper why the applicant qualifies for the Advance Parole Document. The biggest reason to get an attorney’s help when applying for Advance Parole is to confirm the applicant will be allowed back in the United States after leaving. Even after being granted an Advance Parole Document, an individual can still be barred from reentering the United States in certain situations.

Form I-131 Fees

The application fee for Form I-131 depends on what is being applied for. For a Reentry Permit, the filing fee is $575 and a biometric fee of $85 is required.

For a Refugee Travel Document, the filing fee is $105 for applicants younger than 16 years of age and $135 for applicants 16 years of age or older. The $85 biometrics fee is also needed when applying for a Refugee Travel Document.

For an Advance Parole Document, the filing fee is $575 and no biometrics fee is required. For applicants located outside the United States and seeking an Advance Parole Document, the filing fee of $575 may be waived if the applicant can demonstrate financial hardship that makes them unable to pay the filing fee. ITo obtain this waiver, the applicant must complete Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.

The filing fee for Form I-131 is also waived if the applicant files it at the same time they file their Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, as long as they pay the Form I-485 filing fee.

Be Smart and Thorough: Retaining Experienced Immigration Counsel

“Easy” is a relative term. Paperwork can be fairly straight forward until it is not. Answers may be clear until the wrong one lands you in trouble. You may leave the United States unaware of your issue, but then be unable to return. Be proactive and diligent. Protect your future in America. Retain an immigration lawyer to best ensure your status is preserved along with your ability to travel.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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