The Difference Between Asylum Status and Refugee Status
UPDATED: March 30, 2014
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Asylum status and refugee status are terms often used interchangeably in immigration law, but for those applying for asylum or refugee status, the distinction is crucial. The difference turns on where the person is located when making the application. Both asylees and refugees are considered persons who are subject to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Additionally, to qualify for either asylum or refugee status, you must demonstrate that your fear of persecution is well-founded. Consequently, both types involve applying for humanitarian relief with the U.S. government.
Apply for Asylum Status after Arriving in the United States
However, the location of the applicant will determine whether that person applies for asylum or refugee status. Asylum status applies to persons that are already within the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. Refugee status applies to persons who are located outside of the United States as well as outside of their native country, but who are unwilling or unable to return to their native country due to persecution.
If you qualify for asylum status, you can apply for affirmative 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. You must submit a complete application within that time frame, or risk rejection of your application and eventual deportation. While your application is pending, you cannot work without authorization.
Applying for Refugee Status Outside the United States
On the other hand, if you qualify for refugee status, you are not bound by the one year time limit to 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.
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. The embassy will provide assistance in gathering the required paperwork, completion of your application, and, if approved, relocation assistance. You are authorized to work in the U.S. once your application is approved.
Both asylum status and refugee status require strict compliance with processing requirements. If you have questions about how and when you should apply, contact an attorney that specializes in immigration law to guide you through the process.