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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

You may be eligible for asylum if:

You are afraid of being hurt or persecuted in your home country because of your:

  • race,
  • religion,
  • nationality,
  • political opinion,
  • membership in a particular social group, or
  • other special identity, and

you believe that the government in your country cannot protect you.

You may also qualify for asylum if the government in your home country or an individual or group in your home country has hurt or threatened you in the past because of your identity or membership in a particular social group.

Persecution can include many kinds of harm, including physical, emotional, or psychological harm.

Immigration law can be complicated. It is important to talk to a good immigration lawyer before applying for asylum.

What does “membership in a particular social group” mean?

"Membership in a particular social group" is a specific immigration term that refers to an identifiable or “recognizable” group of people. Some examples of particular social groups include LGBTQ+ individuals and victims of domestic violence. However, your eligibility will depend on the specific facts of your case and circumstances in your home country of origin. 

Talk to an immigration lawyer before applying for asylum. 

How do I apply for asylum?

Make sure you are eligible

You must be in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry to apply for asylum.

You must apply within 1 year of your last arrival in the United States, unless you can show that:

  • something changed in your home country that affects your eligibility, or
  • there are special circumstances for your late filing that would be considered “extraordinary”.

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 to asylum. If you have been paroled into the United States or you have been in another status, this might give you more time to meet the 1 year deadline for asylum, but you must file within a reasonable time once this status or circumstance ends.

2 ways to apply

There are 2 processes for applying for asylum: affirmative and defensive processes. For both processes, you must show that you have suffered or fear persecution in your home country because of your:

  • race,
  • religion,
  • nationality,
  • membership in a particular social group, or
  • political opinion.

You can be granted asylum based solely on what you say about your situation, but any proof that you have to support your story can be helpful. Talk with a lawyer about any false documents you may have. There are serious consequences for false statements or documents, and there are rules that are specific for asylum seekers about untrue statements or fake documents.

Affirmative process - if you are not in Immigration Court already

The affirmative process is for people who are not currently in removal or deportation proceedings at the Immigration Court.

Steps in the affirmative asylum process:

  1. File your application (Form I-589) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  2. Be scheduled for an interview with USCIS.
  3. Receive the asylum officer's 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 - if you are already in deportation proceedings in Immigration Court

The defensive process is for people who are already in Immigration Court. This includes people who originally applied for asylum through the affirmative process and were denied.

Steps in the defensive asylum process:

  1. 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.

The government is represented by a lawyer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in all removal and deportation proceedings. The lawyer can ask you questions and present evidence against your case.

Can I apply for asylum for my family members?

You can apply for your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. Children and spouses can be inside the United States. If your family member is outside the United States once you are granted asylum you can file for them to join you using another form the I-730. Children over 21 and married children can apply for asylum with their own application if they meet the criteria for asylum.

Can I get work authorization?

If you are granted asylum, you will also get work authorization.

If your completed asylum case has been pending for 150 days and you have not gotten a decision yet, you can apply for work authorization before you get the asylum decision. Work authorization will be granted for 5 years and can be renewed until a final decision is made on your case.

While you are waiting for your application to be pending for 150 days you should not request a delay of your case, or you might not get a work permit. Any delay caused by you “stops the clock” on the 150 days and makes you ineligible for a work permit unless your case is later granted. If you delay your case by asking for a continuance of a hearing or appointment, your employment card might be delayed. You should speak to an immigration lawyer about delays.

Can I get lawful permanent residence (a green card) if I get asylum status?

Once you are granted asylum status, you are considered an asylee. You can apply for lawful permanent residence, known as getting a green card, 1 year after being granted asylum status. You must show that you have been physically present in the U.S. for 1 year before applying.

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. Be sure to talk with a qualified immigration attorney before filing anything.

Can I travel as an asylee?

If you are an asylee, you can travel if you apply for asylee travel documents. You should not travel on your passport from your home country. Also, you should not travel back to your home country, even if you have a green card, as it may result in a reopening and loss of your asylum status. Remember, asylum status is for people who are afraid to return to their country of origin.

What are the benefits of asylum?

If you are granted asylum:

  • You can live legally in the United States. After 1 year of receiving asylum, you are eligible to apply for legal permanent residency. 4 years after becoming a legal permanent resident in the United States, you are eligible to apply for citizenship if you are over 18.
  • You can request that your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age join you in the United States. In certain circumstances, unmarried children over 21 years old may be eligible for following-to-join immigration benefits as well. You must file within 2 years of being granted asylum.
  • You may petition for immigration benefits for certain other family members, such as your parents, after receiving legal permanent residency status or becoming a citizen.
  • You could qualify for financial benefits offered by the state government, including: financial assistance, health insurance, food assistance, and employment training.
What are the disadvantages of asylum?

If you are granted asylum you cannot return to your home country easily. In order to travel back to your country of origin, you must first get a specific form of permission from the U.S. government. You could lose the protection of asylum if you return to your home country before getting permission from the United States.

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