You Can Go Home Again (Sort of): Visiting Your Home Country After a Grant of Asylum

by Jason Dzubow on January 6, 2016

“If I am granted asylum, can I return to my home country?” I hear this question a lot.

The skeptic would argue that no legitimate asylum seeker should ever return home. Indeed, they might argue, asylum is reserved for people who cannot return due to the danger of persecution, and anyone willing to go back did not need asylum in the first place. I think this is wrong.

Your mother's bunt cake is probably not a compelling reason to return home (tempting though it may be).

Your mother’s bunt cake is probably not a compelling reason to return home (tempting though it may be).

Many of my clients face long-term threats in their countries. For instance, I have clients from Afghanistan who have been threatened by the Taliban. These clients could return briefly to Afghanistan and remain relatively safe. However, to live there for any length of time would be extremely dangerous. Even where the threat comes from the government itself, clients can sometimes safely visit home for short periods of time. I’ve had Ethiopian clients who were wanted by their government, but who were able to return for a few weeks before the government realized that they were in the country. Ethiopia—like many developing countries—is not as adept at tracking people as the United States, and so it is possible to keep a low profile and avoid trouble, at least for a time.

And of course, there are valid reasons to return home. Most of my clients have left family members behind. Others have businesses or properties. Still others are political activists who wish to return home to promote democracy and human rights. There are all sorts of reasons people want to go to their home countries—when balanced against the danger, some reasons are better than others (and some people are more willing than others to take risks).

But what are the legal implications of a return trip for people with asylum? And does the calculus change if the person has a green card or is a U.S. citizen?

For an asylee (a person granted asylum), the U.S. government can terminate asylum status if it determines that the person has “voluntarily availed himself or herself of the protection of the country of nationality or last habitual residence by returning to such country.” This means that asylum can be terminated if the person placed herself under the protection of her home government by returning to her country (or even by using the passport from her home country to travel to a third country). USCIS can also terminate asylum status if it determines that the person is no longer a refugee (for example, if country conditions have changed and it is now safe to return home) or if it determines that asylum was obtained fraudulently (there are other reasons for terminating asylum, as well). A return trip to the home country could trigger one (or more) of these bases for termination.

Even with a green card, USCIS can terminate asylum for the reasons listed above.

If you don’t run into trouble when you return to the U.S. from your trip, you could have problems at the time you file for your citizenship. When you complete the naturalization form (the N-400), you need to list all the countries you visited, and so the government will know whether you went home (and if you omit your travels from the form, you run the risk that the government will know about them from its own sources).

For U.S. citizens who originally obtained their status based on asylum, the risk of a return trip is much less—but it is not zero. If the return trip causes the U.S. government to believe that asylum was obtained fraudulently, it could institute de-naturalization proceedings. I have heard of the U.S. government de-naturalizing citizens based on fraud, so it can happen, but all the case I know about involved aggravating factors, like criminal convictions or human rights abuses. Nevertheless, if USCIS knows about a fraud, it certainly could take action.

So how do you protect yourself if you have to travel back to your home country?

First, it is worthwhile to consult an attorney before you go. Don’t go unless there is a very important reason for the trip. Also, keep the trip as short as possible. The less time you are in your country, the better. In addition, you should collect and save evidence about the return trip. If you went to visit a sick relative, get a letter from the doctor. If you returned home for only a short time, keep evidence about the length of your trip—passport stamps and plane tickets, for example. If you hid in your house and never went out, get some letters from family members who can attest to this. In other words, try to obtain evidence that you did not re-avail yourself of the protection of your home government and that you had a compelling reason to return home. That way, if USCIS ever asks for such evidence, you will be ready.

The safest course of action is to never return home after a grant of asylum. However, in life, this is not always possible. If you do have to go back, you should consult a lawyer and take steps to minimize the likelihood that your trip will impact your immigration status in the U.S.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Shraddha October 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Hello Jason, I had filed for political asylum in 2011 which further went to the court and is still pending. In November of 2015 I got married to my husband and obtained my green card last month through marriage. I recently sent a letter to the uscis to close my case. Can I travel to my home country or a third country with my green card? If yes, do I need any kind of travel documents?
Thank you.

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Jason Dzubow October 18, 2017 at 6:16 am

Until your court case is terminated, you cannot travel. I do think you take a risk if you travel to your home country while you have a GC – even though it was not based on asylum, you had an asylum case. Even traveling on your home-country passport and using the GC to re-enter the US is not a great idea. You can get a Re-Entry Permit (form I-131, available at http://www.uscis.gov), but I do not know what, if any, countries will accept that in lieu of a passport. You might want to talk to a lawyer to think about ways to minimize the risk of travel, and in truth, I might be a bit over-cautious about traveling on your passport – especially if the harm you feared was not from your government, but was from a group or person in your country. Take care, Jason

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ANAND October 16, 2017 at 5:47 am

Hello JASON DZUBOW, thanks for your helping tendency.
I’m from south Indian State I’m linguistic minority in that state, although I have no threat for my life, here we are facing language bigotry. Our constitution clearly says that every one one equal in this country (India) however some politicians hurting our feelings like their language is superior than ours and we should occupy higher posts not you, we can take this to court however we afraid harm will come to us. Although most part of Indian not this problem only some states we have this problem due to linguistic fanatics. I cannot go other part of country to live because I don’t know major language of the our country (Hindi).
I learned that we can apply for asylum if our basic rights are infringed, I’m mentally affected due to the fear of my future and my off springs’, I don’t get marriage because I don’t want my kids face same humiliation as I’m facing now. I think this is sort of infringe to basic human rights. Is there is any chance to I get asylum status in any liberal countries like US,CANADA, EUROPE, NZ etc if submit sufficient evidence of my problems ? Please help me in this regards.Thank you.

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Jason Dzubow October 17, 2017 at 6:18 am

I can only speak about the US. To win a case, you generally need to show that you face “persecution,” which usually – but not always – means physical harm. You also need to show that you cannot relocate safely within your country. I do not know that what you describe is a situation where you face persecution, and the fact that you do not speak Hindi may not be enough to prove that you cannot relocate safely, so I am not sure how strong your case is. However, you may want to talk to a lawyer in the country you intend to go to, as laws may be different in different places and more importantly, a lawyer can get all the facts from you and better evaluate your eligibility. Take care, Jason

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ANAND October 17, 2017 at 8:01 am

Thank you Sir. God Bless you. (If he/she/it is real)

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Dudu October 12, 2017 at 9:29 am

Hi Jason,
I’m a Togolese living in China and about to be granted asylee. Would like to know if one day I have to exit China for any reason, can I return there easily? Thanks.

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Jason Dzubow October 12, 2017 at 5:42 pm

I am in the US and I have no idea about Chinese law. You would have to ask a lawyer there. Take care, Jason

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Fadi October 10, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Hi Jason,

Can a former asylee who now as a green card travel to a third country with their national passport? Would there be any issues when that person applies for naturalization?
And what about a person with derivative asylum status who travel to their country of origin, would DHS try to revoke their status?
Thank you for all you do!

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Jason Dzubow October 11, 2017 at 6:34 am

It is better to use the Refugee Travel Document. We have had many clients use their passports because the third country would not accept an RTD. They have been fine so far, but under Trump, USCIS is becoming much more strict and looking for reasons to cause delay/harm to asylees. If you cannot travel with an RTD, try to get evidence proving that, and be prepared to explain why you used your passport. As for derivatives, I think it depends on the case, but if the derivative does not face harm in the home country and that is evident from the asylum case, there should not be a problem to travel there. However, given the way USCIS is acting towards all asylees, I would be very careful about this and talk to a lawyer before traveling, especially since there are proposals floating around that would cause problems for such a derivative if they become law (I plan to do a post this week about this issue). Take care, Jason

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grace October 10, 2017 at 8:34 am

Hi Jason, I have been granted asylum 2 years ago now, i applied for the green card, and havent yet received an interview or an approval and it is outside processing time. so I had a travel document that just expired. I have an emergency trip to china in a month and I havent yet got my greencard. is there any other document that USCis gives to travel abroa if the green card is pending and the travel document has expired? I wanted to apply for a travel document but its takes 3 months to receive it and my flight is in a month. is there a way to rush travel socument or green card processing time since its been a year now since i have applied? thank you in advance for the help.

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Jason Dzubow October 11, 2017 at 6:25 am

You can file to replace the Refugee Travel Document, send a copy of your plane tickets and info about the emergency, and ask them to expedite. I doubt this would be processed in a month. Another option is to file for Advance Parole based on the pending I-485 (if you did this, you would need to travel on your passport and use the AP to re-enter the US). I wrote about AP on September 11, 2017. You can also make an Info Pass appointment at http://www.uscis.gov and go to your local USCIS office to ask about expediting the AP on an emergency basis. Given your time frame, I recommend you make the Info Pass appointment and go there immediately, even if you cannot get an appointment or the appointment is scheduled too far in the future. You will have to tell them that it is an emergency and ask to speak to an officer. It is difficult to get anything from USCIS on such a quick timeline, but you can try. Good luck, Jason

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Layth October 9, 2017 at 2:14 am

Hi Jason,
I’m a permanent resident in USA via asylum. I’m from Iraq and I went to Erbil city which is the capital of Kurdistan region located north of Iraq . This region has autonomy goverment and they did a referendum to become independent from Iraq. I went there to see my mother after a major surgery to her neck and I stayed there for 5 weeks. When I returned back to US the officer of CBP asked me many questions about my visit and told me that Im not allowed to enter US again Because I visited Iraq . I told him this is an autonomy part and I have compelling reasons and show him the report of my mother’s surgery but he said it’s still Iraq and you can’t go there. Anyhow they inspected my bags and mobile phone and after 4 hours of investigation they allowed me to enter USA and they didn’t revoked my green card. My question is does that gonna affect my residency? And does it will affect naturalization?

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Jason Dzubow October 9, 2017 at 6:56 am

You should make sure you have evidence about your mother’s surgery so you can present it to USCIS if they ask about this. I doubt it will have any effect on the green card, but if you apply for naturalization, the issue will come up, so you should be prepared to explain the travel. It would also come up if you return to Iraq (regardless of whether Iraqi Kurdistan has voted for independence, it is not recognized by the US and is still considered part of Iraq). Finally, I suppose it could also come up even if you do nothing else, so it would be a good idea to have the evidence about your trip, just in case. In the end, my guess is that you will be fine, but you definitely want to have evidence of her medical condition. Take care, Jason

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Layth October 9, 2017 at 9:54 am

Dear Jason,
Thank you for replying. I didn’t understand what you mean by ( I suppose it could also come up even if you do nothing else). You mean that they maybe contact me this month or next month regarding my travel?. I have requested a report of my mother’s condition from the hospital and I showed it to the CBP officer and I still have it.

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Jason Dzubow October 10, 2017 at 6:03 am

It is possible that USCIS will affirmatively look into your case, even if you do not apply for any other immigration benefits. I have not seen them do that, but they have the authority to do that. I just doubt they will – normally, these issues arise when people apply to naturalize or maybe for some other immigration benefit. Take care, Jason

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Andrs October 11, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Layth

What state? is this Chicago?I have same experince with travel documemt.

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Layth October 12, 2017 at 2:08 am

No Los Angeles airport (LAX)

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Jawad October 8, 2017 at 7:56 am

Hi Jason. I’m Iranian I was born in Iran . And we left our country in 2007. We lived in Pakistan 7 years , and finally we moved to Australia as a refugee . My question is , is it possible to get my Iranian passport in Australia ? And am I allowed to travel in Iran to go back home for a holiday for a short term ?

Regards,
Jawad

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Jason Dzubow October 9, 2017 at 6:36 am

I have no idea about this – I am in the US. Maybe you can talk to a lawyer in Australia for help. Take care, Jason

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Zarina October 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Hi Jason,
I was granted an asylum in 2011, I filed for my son in 2013, so he got his approval in 2015. Meanwhile I married the US citizen, and received my green card through marriage. But in 2016 my son entered US via v92 visa. Because of my husbands work we live in the Netherlands (about to return to US probably end of this – beginning of next year), and 13 yo couldn’t stay alone, he had to return to home country (Russia). But we applied and received travel document. His travel document is about to expire in February and I want to apply for new one.
Was is possible for my son to get back to home country? Can we expect troubles on the customs border?
Kind regards

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Jason Dzubow October 8, 2017 at 7:52 am

Living overseas with a green card is tricky, and so you might want to talk to a lawyer to give you a “check up” and go over all the legal issues in your case. In general, dependents should not have trouble gong to their home country, but it may depend on he case and it is probably worth a consultation with a lawyer to make sure you all are safe. Take care, Jason

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Zarina October 8, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Hi Jason,
Thank you for your time and answer.
I will definitely reach out to you for consultation in couple of weeks.
Kind regards,
Zarina

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suzan October 4, 2017 at 12:04 pm

hi i’m suzan i’m asylum 2016 cases and i have a problem that my us visa is expired
and i need to go my home country to see my dad because he is so tired he will make a great surgery i hope to go and see him before he go to the hospital i’m egyption he will make it in november 2 /2017
i need any solve to this problem
thanks

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suzan October 4, 2017 at 12:22 pm

it’s november 20/2017

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Jason Dzubow October 5, 2017 at 6:14 am

If your asylum case is granted, you can travel using a Refugee Travel Document (form I-131, available at http://www.uscis.gov), but if you do not have that yet, I doubt you can get it before November – you can ask USCIS to expedite and maybe they can help. However, if you travel to your home country, you risk losing your asylum status. If your asylum case is stilt pending, you can try to get Advance Parole to travel. I wrote about that on September 11, 2017, but again, returning to your home country may very well result in your asylum case being denied. Take care, Jason

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Afshan Ahmed October 5, 2017 at 9:32 am

Hi Jason I have the same issue my assylum case is approved but still I am allien not recieved my interview date. I have 2 questions
1) can I go to a 3rd country like Qatar as I am Pakistani to meet my mother as she is not getting US visa due to my case and she is vvvery old. Can I return back as per the new rules of Trump.
1) can my mother gets a US visa so that I can meet her,she applied tgrice but was rejected and tge reason is my visit viza then aaylum case. Please let me know how can she geys visa
Thanks

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Jason Dzubow October 5, 2017 at 5:42 pm

If your asylum case is approved, you can get a Refugee Travel Document (form I-131, available at http://www.uscis.gov) and then you can go to a third country. If your asylum case is pending, you need Advance Parole – I wrote about that on September 11, 2017. If you have the appropriate travel document, you should be able to return to the US. As for your mother, she can try again. It sounds like it will be denied, but maybe if she can demonstrate with evidence that she will leave the US at the end of her visit, they will give her a visa. Take care, Jason

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Afshan Ahmed October 5, 2017 at 9:24 pm

Thanks a lot Jason your positive reply gives me a bright hope yo meet my mom. I wish my husband will also be convinced . Thanks

Zargar October 3, 2017 at 9:34 pm

Hi jason I would like to know about my problem please I have uk travel documents and rufugee stutts 5 year I want to visit to Pakistan and I am from Afghanistan but I was born in Pakistan I told to home office like this. now the home office say u cannot travel to this both country so I have my mother in Pakistan I want see her if u know about this please let me know

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Jason Dzubow October 4, 2017 at 6:35 am

I do not know about UK law – I am in the US. You need to ask a lawyer in the UK. Take care, Jason

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