If you are at risk of persecution in your home country, you may be eligible to file for asylum in the United States. This guide explains asylum, how to ask for it, and what happens if the United States government approves or denies your asylum petition.
What is Asylum?
Asylum is a type of protection that lets you stay in the United States instead of being deported to a country where you fear persecution or harm. United States immigration law enables people to file for asylum when they are present in the United States or are at a U.S. port of entry.
You cannot get asylum unless you fear persecution. Persecution can be actual harm or threats of harm to you, your family, or people similar to you based on:
- Political opinion (real or perceived)
- Membership in a particular social group
There are two main types of asylum: Affirmative and defensive.
Affirmative asylum is for people who have not been placed in removal proceedings in the United States. If you show up at a U.S. border crossing, or if you’re already in the United States and ask for asylum, you’ll speak to an official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. This is called affirmative asylum.
Defensive asylum is for people who have been placed in removal proceedings and are at risk of being deported from the United States. In a case like this, you will need to ask an immigration judge for asylum. This is called defensive asylum because you are asking to remain in the United States when you are in the process of (possibly) being told to leave.
How is Asylum Different From Refugee Status?
Asylum is only different from refugee status when it comes to where you are located when you ask to remain in the United States for protection. If you are already in the United States or at a port of entry to the country, you ask for asylum. If you are located outside of the United States, you ask to be a refugee.
Who Qualifies for Asylum in the United States?
Anyone who has a credible fear of persecution or who has experienced persecution in the past is eligible to apply for asylum. That doesn’t necessarily mean that USCIS will approve your petition, though. It simply means that you are eligible to ask for protection in the United States.
You may only apply for asylum within one year of your arrival to the United States. However, you may apply regardless of your current immigration status; it doesn’t matter how you arrived inside the United States.
What is a Credible Fear?
Credible fear means that you have reason to believe that you or your family, or people like you, will be or are being persecuted in your home country. It also means that your belief is likely to be correct. An immigration officer will interview you to determine whether you have a credible fear and whether you are likely to be persecuted in your home country before approving or denying your petition.
Who is Barred From Asylum?
Some people are not eligible for asylum in the United States. After you apply, you’ll talk to an immigration officer who will determine your eligibility. You will be ineligible and barred from getting asylum if you:
- Ordered, incited, assisted or participated in the persecution of any person on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. In other words, you will be barred from asylum if you are the persecutor.
- Were convicted of a serious crime or committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States.
- Pose a danger to the national security of the United States.
- Were firmly resettled in another country before you arrived in the United States. That means if you lived somewhere else lawfully before coming to the United States, the United States government will expect you to return to that country if you cannot return to your home country.
Request A Consultation
Meet The Attorney
Angela D. Warren
With more than 20 years of immigration and business immigration experience, Angela Warren has helped hundreds of individuals, families and businesses.
Get The Immigration Help You Deserve
When Can You Apply for Asylum?
You may apply for asylum when you arrive at a port of entry to the United States or within one year of your arrival in the United States. For example, if you arrive on April 1, you have until the following April 1 to apply for asylum. There are some exceptions to this rule that allow you to apply if you have been in the United States for longer than a year.
It does not matter whether you entered the United States lawfully or otherwise when you apply for asylum. However, if you entered unlawfully and are not granted asylum in the United States, you can expect to be placed in removal proceedings.
What if You Have a Criminal Record?
You may still apply for asylum if you have a criminal record. However, USCIS may deny your application, depending on the crime or crimes in your past. Naturally, the USCIS officer you talked to will evaluate your entire situation as a whole; if you’ve been convicted of crimes in your home country that are not crimes in the United States (such as being gay, conducting business as a woman, or other, similar things), they have nothing to do with whether your petition will be granted or denied. The criminal records that USCIS is concerned about relate to things that are crimes here in the United States, including violations of immigration law.
How Long Does it Take to Get Asylum?
Usually, USCIS reaches a decision on an asylum petition within 180 days after the filing date. However, sometimes exceptional circumstances make it take longer period you are allowed to remain in the United States while USCIS is evaluating your petition.
Can You Check Your Petition’s Status?
You or your attorney can check your petition’s status at any time. You may either send a written inquiry or visit the asylum office that has jurisdiction over your asylum case. However, many people find it easiest to check their case status online using the receipt number they have from filing an application. (You can check your status online here.)
Can Asylees Work in the United States?
People who are waiting for an asylum decision are allowed to work in the U.S., but only with work authorization from the United States government. You can’t apply for asylum and work authorization at the same time. You must file separately, and you must wait 365 days after you file a complete asylum application. Your attorney can help you file for employment authorization.
However, you do not need Employment authorization if you are granted asylum. If you are granted asylum, you may begin working immediately.
Can Your Family Come With You if You Seek Asylum in the United States?
As long as you list your spouse and children on your asylum petition, and your children are unmarried and under the age of 21 (and are also located in the United States), USCIS will approve them as asylees if they approve you. However, if any of these family members are barred from asylum, USCIS may deny them.
If your family members are currently outside the United States, you may file a petition for them to obtain derivative asylum status. Your attorney can give you the guidance you need if you are in this situation.
When Can You Get a Green Card After Being Admitted to the U.S. as an Asylee?
You may apply for a green card (lawful permanent residency in the United States) one year after you are granted asylee status.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Getting Asylum in the United States?
If you need to talk to an attorney about getting asylum in the United States, we may be able to help. Call our office today to discuss your options; we’ll be happy to answer your questions and get you moving in the right direction.
You Deserve One Of Our Best Lawyers
over 20 years of experience in asylum, procuring visas for those in need, settling US immigration issues, defending against deportation and advising international businesses.