Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

The Regulatory Leash of the One-Year Refugee Travel Document

Academic journal article Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems

The Regulatory Leash of the One-Year Refugee Travel Document

Article excerpt


One of the most difficult obstacles that refugees and asylum seekers face in rebuilding their lives is continuing to have their movement heavily restricted for years even after obtaining asylum or refugee status in their country of refuge. This Note focuses on how the one-year validity period of the u.S. Refugee Travel Document1 (RTD) restricts refugees' and asylees' freedom of movement.

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 first discusses the history of RTDs before the enactment of the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the "1951 U.N. Convention") and the related 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (the "1967 Refugee Protocol"). It then discusses the travel document regime that those documents created. Part II also examines 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 an RTD, which can vary according to one's immigration status. Part IV explores how RTDs 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.

Many of the terms used in this Note are used colloquially and can have different meanings across different legal regimes. The relevant terms are here defined, and any necessary additional information is provided. A "refugee," according to the 1951 U.N. Convention, is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.2 Under U.S. regulations, a refugee is someone who applies for and obtained refugee status in a third country and is later resettled into the United States.3 An "asylee" is someone who applies for and has obtained asylum in their country of refuge and who meets the definition of a "refugee" under the 1951 U.N. Convention and U.S. regulations.4 This Note uses the term "asylum seeker" to refer to a person colloquially referred to as a refugee - someone who leaves their country to seek refuge in another country and applies for asylum in the country of refuge. A permanent resident or a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is an alien who is permitted to reside permanently in the issuing country.5 In the United States, refugees and asylees must apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to change their status ("adjust status") to that of an LPR.6


According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the ability to travel outside the country of his residence is "particularly important for a refugee."7 This kind of travel is essential in order for a refugee to "take advantage of opportunities for education, training, or employment, [and] may be an essential prerequisite for a durable solution to his problems."8 However, many refugees find it difficult to travel abroad because they lack a passport. In the United States, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 208(c)(2)(D), if a refugee or asylee uses a passport from their country of persecution, then their asylum or refugee status could be subject to termination.9 However, refugees and asylees cannot obtain U.S. passports, because they are not citizens.10 As a result, refugees and asylees to the United States face the implicit requirement that they surrender their passports - and associated freedom of movement - for the chance to make a successful asylum claim, without any guarantee that the United States will provide comparable travel documents should their claims succeed. …

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