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Most commonly, the term white passport refers to a permit allowing immigrant residents of the United States to reenter the country after extended travel abroad. Application for this permit is, essentially, a statement that, while a person may be absent for a long period of time, he or she wishes to continue to live in the U.S. When taken literally, however, a white passport can actually refer to a passport with a white cover. These rare documents may be issued by some countries for very specific types of travel purposes.
Under United States law, a lawful, permanent resident may legally travel outside the country for periods of up to one year without risking loss of resident status. A white passport, or reentry permit, extends that time limit to two years. As a reentry permit cannot be renewed, residents wishing to reenter the U.S. after two years must apply for a returning resident visa or, in a worst-case scenario, begin the green card application process anew.
Individuals wishing to attain a white passport must return a completed Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices. These forms can be obtained from either the USCIS website or by visiting the nearest office. Uncomplicated reentry applications can take up to 90 days to process. If possible, departure dates should be scheduled accordingly.
While it is not recommended, a permanent resident can leave the United States while the application for a white passport is being processed. The application and accompanying fingerprinting, however, must originate in the U.S. There is some risk associated with this option, as a denial of the application could result in loss of residency. If approved, the reentry permit would be sent to the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy in the country that is being visited.
A white passport is appropriate in certain other specific circumstances, even if the time away is expected to be under one year. For example, for a resident unable to receive a passport from the U.S. or the country of birth, a reentry permit may be the only available documentation for travel abroad. Those who need to establish temporary residency in another country can, sometimes, use the permit to prove that their intentions were not to forgo U.S. citizenship permanently.
Despite the name, a white passport issued by the U.S. is generally neither white nor in passport form. Other countries, however, do issue such documents. In India, for example, passports with white covers are issued to travelers who will be acting as official representatives of their government while abroad.