Asylum

Introduction
Asylum may be granted to people who are already in the United States and are unable or unwilling to return their home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If you are granted asylum, you will be allowed to live and work in the United States. You also will be able to apply for permanent resident status one year after you are granted asylum.

Asylum status and refugee status are closely related. They differ only in the place where a person asks for the status asylum is asked for in the United States; refugee status is asked for outside of the United States. However, all people who are granted asylum must meet the definition of a refugee.

The Refugee Act of 1980 regulates U.S. asylum policy as well as governing refugee procedures. The Act, for the first time, established a statutory basis for granting asylum in the United States consistent with the 1967 United Nations Protocol on Refugees.

Adjustments to Permanent Residency
No limits are set on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum in the United States. Under immigration law, approved asylums must reside in the United States for 1 year following their approval in order to be eligible to apply for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status. One year of the asylee's residence prior to adjustment is counted toward the naturalization residency requirement. Although asylee adjustments are exempt from the worldwide annual limitation on immigrants, the law places a ceiling on the number of asylees who may adjust to permanent residency status each year.

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the ceiling from 5,000 to 10,000 per year, effective for fiscal year 1991. It also waived the annual ceiling beginning in fiscal year 1991 for those asylees who had met the required 1-year waiting period and filed for adjustment of status on or before June 1, 1990.

Eligibility
To be eligible for asylum in the United States, you must
  • must ask for asylum at a port-of-entry (airport, seaport or border crossing), or
  • file an application within one year of your arrival in the United States.
  • You may ask later than one year if conditions in your country have changed or if your personal circumstances have changed within the past year prior to your asking for asylum, and those changes of circumstances affected your eligibility for asylum.
  • You may also be excused from the one-year deadline if extraordinary circumstance prevented you from filing within the one-year period after your arrival, so long as you apply within a reasonable time given those circumstances.

You may apply for asylum regardless of your immigration status, meaning that you may apply even if you are illegally in the United States. In addition, you must qualify for asylum under the definition of "refugee."

Your eligibility will be based on information you provide on your application and during an interview with an Asylum Officer or Immigration Judge.
  1. If you have been placed in removal (deportation) proceedings in Immigration Court, an Immigration Judge will hear and decide your case.
  2. If you have not been placed in removal proceedings, an Asylum Officer will interview you and decide whether you are eligible for asylum. Asylum Officers will grant asylum, deny asylum or refer the case to an Immigration Judge for a final decision.
  3. If an Asylum Officer finds that you are not eligible for asylum and you are in the United States illegally, the Asylum Officer will place you in removal proceedings and refer your application to an Immigration Judge for a final decision. Immigration Judges also decide on removal if an applicant is found ineligible for asylum and is illegally in the United States.
  4. If you are in valid immigrant or nonimmigrant status and the Asylum Officer finds that you are not eligible for asylum, the Asylum Officer will send you a notice explaining that the USCIS intends to deny your request for asylum. You will be given an opportunity to respond to that notice before a decision is made on your application.

Application Procedure
Under asylum reform in 1995, the USCIS standard is to conduct the asylum interview within 60 days after the claim is filed, and to identify and grant in a timely fashion those cases that have merit. If the USCIS asylum officer does not find the claim to be grantable at the interview, the applicant is referred immediately for deportation proceedings before Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) (unless a nonimmigrant status is still valid).

The immigration judge may grant the claim or may issue a denial and an order of deportation. Under this system USCIS asylum officers issue relatively few denials, but an interview followed by a referral to EOIR represents the asylum officer's judgment that the application is not readily grantable. An applicant who fails without good cause to keep a scheduled appointment for an asylum interview is referred immediately to EOIR for deportation; this is considered to be one type of case closure.

To ask for asylum, you will need to complete an USCIS Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) and follow the instructions carefully. There is no fee. You can normally expect to complete your asylum processing within 180 days from the date of filing your application.

If you are applying with the USCIS for asylum, you should send your application to the USCIS Service Center that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. You will find information on where to send your application in the instructions to USCIS Form I-589. If you have been placed in proceedings before an Immigration Judge, you should file the form with the Immigration Court.

Traveling Outside the United States
If you are applying for asylum and you want to travel outside the United States, you must receive advance permission before you leave the United States in order to return to the United States. This advance permission is called Advance Parole. If you do not apply for Advance Parole before you leave the country, you will abandon your application with the USCIS and you may not be permitted to return to the United States. If your application for asylum is approved, you may apply for a Refugee Travel Document. This document will allow you to travel abroad and return to the United States.

Work Permit
Asylum applicants cannot apply for employment authorization at the same time they apply for asylum. Rather, you must wait 150 days after the USCIS receives a complete application before you can apply for employment authorization. The USCIS has 30 days to either grant or deny your request for employment.