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Asylum

What is asylum?

Have you been harmed or do you fear harm in your country of origin?

Asylum is protection that is available to people physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry, who have suffered persecution or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Applying for asylum

There are two processes for applying for asylum: the affirmative and defensive processes.

Affirmative Process

The affirmative process is available to people who are not currently in removal or deportation proceedings. You must be physically present in the United States to apply for asylum, but you can be in any immigration status.

You must demonstrate that you have suffered persecution or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

You must apply within one year of your last arrival in the United States, unless you can show changed circumstances in your country that affect your eligibility or extraordinary circumstances for your late filing. If you do not meet one of these exceptions, you may still be eligible for withholding of removal, which is a similar type of process.

Steps in the affirmative asylum process:

  1. File your application (form I-589) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  2. Be scheduled for an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  3. Receive asylum officer decision.
    1. If the case is approved, you have asylum status.
    2. If the case is denied and you do not have any immigration status, you will be referred to the immigration court and placed in removal/deportation proceedings. You will be able to apply for asylum in front of the immigration judge through the defensive process, see below.

Defensive process

The defensive process is available for people who are in immigration court, including those individuals that originally applied for asylum through the affirmative process and were denied.

You must demonstrate that you have suffered persecution or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

You must apply within one year of your last arrival in the United States, unless you can show changed circumstances in your country that affect your eligibility or extraordinary circumstances for your late filing. If you do not meet one of these exceptions, you may still be eligible for withholding of removal, which is a similar type of process.

Steps in the defensive asylum process:

  1. You will file your application (form I-589) with the immigration judge
  2. The judge will schedule an individual hearing to decide your case
    1. If the case is granted, you will have asylum status
    2. If the case is denied, you will be ordered removed, but you can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals

Please note in all removal or deportation proceedings, the government is represented by an lawyer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that can ask you question and present evidence against your case.

Work authorization

People applying for asylum can also apply for work authorization once their completed applications have been pending for 150 days, if no decision has been made on their case yet. Work authorization will be granted for one year and can be renewed until a final decision is made on your case.

If you delay your case, you may stop the accrual of the 150 days.

Once granted asylum, asylees receive work authorization.

What about my family members?

Asylum seekers can apply for their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. Children and spouses can be inside the U.S. or outside the U.S.

Lawful permanent residence (green cards) for asylees

Once granted asylum status, you are considered an asylee. Asylees may apply for permanent residence one year after being granted asylum status. You must show that you have been physically present in the U.S. for one year before applying.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is “membership in a particular social group?”
    • Membership in a particular social group is a specific immigration term that refers to a cognizable group of individuals. Please consult an immigration lawyer before applying for asylum. Some examples of particular social groups include LGBTI individuals and victims of domestic violence. However, your eligibility will depend on the specific facts of your case and circumstances in your country of origin.
  • What proof do I need?
    • An asylum case can be granted solely on the testimony of the individual applying for asylum, but any proof that you can provide that can corroborate your story can be helpful. Do not present false documentation to immigration because there are very serious consequences for false statements.
  • What if I have a removal order or have had immigration issues before?
    • You may still be eligible for asylum or other related relief, such as withholding of removal, but your process will be different.
  • Can I travel as an asylee?
    • Asylees can travel if they apply for asylee travel documents. Asylees should not travel on their passports from their countries of origin. Asylees should also not travel back to their country of origin, as it may result in a reopening and revocation of their asylum status. Remember asylum status is for people who are afraid to return to their country of origin.
Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Last Updated May 2016

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