Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation)

 

Introduction: Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation)

Filing the Form I-131AOn August 31, 2016, the United States and Citizenship Services published a new form called the Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation). The purpose of this new form is to allow a lawful permanent resident (LPR) who either lost his or her Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”) or had it stolen or destroyed while abroad to procure documentation to reenter the United States. As we will explain, an LPR who either lost his or her Green Card or had it stolen or destroyed may only apply for a Form I-131A under certain circumstances. In this article, we will examine the uses for the Form I-131A, guidance from the form instructions, and provide general information on the subject.

While reading, please note that we will be referring to the following resources related to the Form I-131A:

  • USCIS News Release from September 30, 2016 (“Form I-131A Now Available” (9/30/16)) [link]; and
  • Form I-131A Instructions (ed. 08/31/16) [PDF version].

Uses for the Form I-131A

Page one of the Form I-131A instructions explains that, in general, LPRs and conditional LPRs seeking reentry into the United States may present a Green Card or a Reentry Permit in lieu of an immigrant visa when seeking reentry into the United States.

The Form I-131A may provide a remedy for LPRs and conditional LPRs under the following circumstances:

  1. He or she is returning from temporary overseas travel of less than one year, and his or her Green Card has been lost, stolen, or destroyed while abroad; or
  2. He or she is returning from temporary overseas travel of less than two years, and his or her Reentry Permit has been lost, stolen or destroyed while abroad.

In order to be eligible for a Form I-131A, the applicant must either be an LPR or a conditional LPR. That means that he or she must not have abandoned or otherwise lost or relinquished such status. Because the Form I-131A is only for those whose Green Cards were lost, stolen, or destroyed abroad, an LPR or conditional LPR who is physically present in the United States may not file for a Form I-131A.

The Form I-131A instructions explain that an LPR or conditional LPR who is in possession of a valid travel document that was not returned to the DHS, or that was not lost, stolen, destroyed, or mutilated is not eligible to file a Form I-131A.

Furthermore, an LPR or conditional LPR need not file the Form I-131A under the following circumstances:

  1. If in possession of an expired Green Card (with a 10-year expiration date); or
  2. If in possession of an expired Green Card (with a two-year expiration date) and a valid Form I-797, Notice of Action, indicating that status is extended.

In the above two cases, these documents should be sufficient for returning to the United States. However, the USCIS website advises those with expired Green Cards to check with their airline or vessel ahead of time before determining whether they may need to file the Form I-131A. In short, it is best to explain the situation with the airline or vessel in advance to avoid complications when it comes time to travel.

In some cases, an applicant may be required to apply for an SB-1 Returning Resident visa instead. An applicant who applies for an SB-1 visa does not need to use the Form I-131A.

Effect of an Approved Form I-131A

If the DHS finds that the individual who filed a Form I-131A remains an LPR or conditional LPR, it will have the discretion to provide the individual with a Travel Document. The form instructions explain that the Travel Document may be placed in the applicant's passport or boarding letter. The purpose of the Travel Document is to allow the applicant to return to the United States. The instructions explain that,in most cases, the Travel Document is valid for 30 days from the date of its issuance.

It is important to note that the Travel Document has limited utility. Its purpose is to show a commercial airline carrier that the carrier of the travel document is not required to provide a visa at the time he or she applies for admission or otherwise seeks lawful entry into the United States at a designated Port-of-Entry. The Travel Document does not guarantee that the holder will be admitted or allowed to enter the United States. It is possible that a holder of a Travel Document may be found to be ineligible for admission or entry to the United States at the Port-of-Entry by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Furthermore, the DHS has in its discretion the authority to revoke or terminate a Travel Document at any time, with or without notice.

Because of the Travel Document's limited utility, it does not suffice as a replacement for a lost, destroyed, or expired Green Card. A person who obtains a Travel Document subsequent to filing the Form I-131A will still be required to apply for a new Green Card. This may be done by filing the Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card.

Filing the Form I-131A

The filing fee for the Form I-131A is $360 as of the October 6, 2016. There is no waiver of this fee under any circumstances. The fee must be paid online before the Form I-131A is formally filed.

After submitting the filing fee, the applicant must submit the fully completed Form I-131A at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In order to have the Form I-131A accepted, the applicant must bring evidence of payment of the filing fee.

Once the application is accepted, the USCIS will check it for completeness. It should be noted that the filing fee is non-refundable even if USCIS rejects or denies the application for lack of completeness. The USCIS may accept or deny a complete application. In the interim, it may request more information or require the applicant to appear at the consulate for an interview. The decision to approve or deny a Form I-131A is completely within the discretion of the USCIS, and the applicant will have no grounds for appealing an adverse decision.

The Form I-131A instructions explain that the Form I-131A must be submitted with the following evidence:

  1. Original passport and one copy of passport's biographic page (USCIS will return the passport when it is no longer required for adjudicating the application);
  2. Evidence of LPR or conditional LPR status (e.g., copy of Green Card, immigrant visa, or CBP admission stamp in passport);
  3. A copy of tickets, itinerary, or any other evidence indicating the applicant's last date of departure from the United States and intended date of return travel to the United States; and
  4. One color passport-style photograph taken within 30 days of filing the application (detailed requirements listed in the Form Instructions).

As with any request for an immigration benefit, there may be severe immigration and/or criminal penalties for an applicant who knowingly and willfully falsifies or conceals a material fact or submits a false document with a Form I-131A. Such a finding will lead to the automatic denial of the application and any associated immigration benefit.

Conclusion

An LPR or conditional LPR who loses his or her Green Card or Travel Document is well advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney expeditiously before taking action. An experienced immigration attorney may assess the situation and help the applicant determine if the Form I-131A is the best solution to his or her situation (and help the applicant properly file the application if it is). Additionally, an experienced immigration attorney will be able to identify if there may be more complicated problems regarding the applicant's immigration situation (such as potential concerns regarding abandonment of LPR status [see article; and article]. If an applicant has an expired Green Card, he or she should seek guidance on the situation before endeavoring to travel.