How does a refugee obtain asylum?

Even though the backgrounds of refugees and asylees (or asylum seekers) are similar, you should first understand the difference between a refugee status and asylum. Both are considered persons who are subject to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The main difference between the two types of status is where the person is located.

Asylum Status and Refugee Status

Someone who wants to emigrate to another country is considered a refugee after leaving their home, unable to return, and is living temporarily in another country. An asylee is granted asylum after arriving in a new country. In other words, asylum status applies to persons who are already within the United States or at a port of entry. Refugee status applies to persons who are located outside the United States and outside of their native country. To qualify for either type of status, refugee or asylee, you must demonstrate that your fear of persecution is "well-founded." There is no conclusive test for well-founded, but generally it must include more proof than a mere suspicion. You may need to gather affidavits, news reports, and other records to document that you are in fear of remaining or returning to your native country.

Applying for Asylum

If you are considered an asylee, you can submit your application for asylum at a port of entry or directly to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Depending on your situation, you can apply for affirmative asylum or defensive asylum processing within the United States. With some very limited exceptions, your affirmative asylum application must be filed within one year of your entry into the United States This is done on the USCIS Form I-589 and is best accomplished with the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer.

Keep in mind, you must submit a complete application, or risk rejection of your asylum application and eventual deportation. While your asylum application is pending, you cannot work without authorization.

Applying for Refugee Relief

If you qualify for refugee status, you do not apply in the United States for refugee relief. Instead, you must apply with an agency like a U.S. embassy outside of the United States. They will provide you with assistance in gathering the required paperwork, completion of your application, and if approved, relocation assistance.

Once your application is approved, you are authorized to work in the United States. There is not a set timeframe for when you must apply, however, it’s best to apply while your fear of persecution is still current. If at any time while your application is pending, your fear of persecution ends (i.e. a new government takes over), you will no longer qualify for refugee status.

Getting Help

Both asylum and refugee statuses require strict compliance with processing requirements. If you have questions about how and when you should apply, contact an immigration lawyer to guide you through the process.