Are you in fear of persecution in your home country because of your race, religion, or membership in a social group?
Do you fear future persecution in your home country because of your political views or membership in a particular social group?
If you’ve answered “Yes” to either question above, you may be able to seek political asylum in the United States. Every year, people come to the U.S. to escape present or future persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 1981, the U.S. passed the Refugee Act enabling the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to grant political asylum or refugee status to those who fear persecution in their home country. According to a New York Times article (J. Preston, 9/30/10), the U.S. granted asylum in more than 22,000 cases in 2009. However, in 2015, the EOIR granted 8,246 asylums.
WHAT IS POLITICAL ASYLUM?
A political asylum is a form of protection available to people already present in the U.S. who are afraid of returning to their home country because of actual persecution or who have a well-founded fear of actual persecution because of their:
- National origin;
- Membership in a particular social group; or,
- Political views.
If you are still in your home country, and the above applies to you, you may get refugee status instead of asylee status. In other words, a “refugee” is a person living outside the U.S. and intends to enter the U.S. because he or she fears persecution in his or her home country due to the grounds mentioned earlier. Those eligible for political asylum or refugee status can become lawful permanent residents after the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Immigration Judge approves their cases.
WHO CAN APPLY FOR ASYLUM?
Individuals of any nationality must request political asylum at a U.S. port of entry (airport, seaport, or border crossing) or file for it within one (1) year of arriving in the U.S. You will not be eligible for asylum if you participated in the persecution of others or if you have “firmly resettled” in another country. If you entered the U.S. on a valid visa, the time you spent in the U.S. with that visa does not count as part of the one (1) year period.
WHEN MUST I APPLY FOR ASYLUM?
Generally, you must apply for asylum within one (1) year of your last arrival into the U.S. Exceptions may apply, such as: (1) changed circumstances in your home country that affect your eligibility, or (2) extraordinary circumstances related to your lateness in the filing.
CAN I APPLY FOR ASYLUM IF I AM HERE ILLEGALLY?
Yes. You can apply for political asylum, even if you are in the U.S. illegally. For example, if you have entered the U.S. using a fraudulent visa or have crossed the border, you may still apply for political asylum within one (1) year of your last arrival. You may file after the one (1) year mark, but only if you can demonstrate that you are eligible for an exception to the one (1) year rule.
CAN I APPLY FOR ASYLUM IF I WAS CONVICTED OF A CRIME?
Yes. However, depending on the offense, you may be barred from being granted asylum.
CAN I BE BARRED FROM APPLYING FOR ASYLUM OR BEING GRANTED ASYLUM?
You may be barred from applying for asylum if:
- You applied for asylum before and were denied by an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals;
- You did not apply within one (1) year of your last arrival.
You could be removed to a safe third-party country.
However, you can request a reopening of your asylum case based on changed country conditions in your countries of origin.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR ASYLUM?
To apply for asylum, you will need to complete an Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal (Form I-589) and carefully follow the instructions. It is strongly recommended that you retain an experienced immigration attorney if you consider applying for political asylum. If you do not have any other legal status and if the immigration judge has denied an asylum application (or other similar forms of relief, such as withholding of removal, relief under the Convention against torture, etc., are denied), then you will be ordered deported by the immigration judge.3
3 The legal terminology for this process is Removal in Immigration Court.
AM I SUBJECT TO SECURITY AND BACKGROUND CHECKS IF I APPLY FOR ASYLUM?
Yes. Every individual who applies for asylum is subject to background and security checks.
WILL I BE FINGERPRINTED IF I APPLY FOR ASYLUM?
Yes. After filing your asylum application, you will receive a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location to report for fingerprinting.
ARE THERE OTHER SIMILAR FORMS OF RELIEF, WHICH CAN BE GRANTED IF MY ASYLUM CLAIM IS DENIED?
Yes. Similar forms of relief are withholding removal, replacement under the Convention against torture, and voluntary departure.
CAN MY FAMILY ACCOMPANY ME IF I APPLY FOR ASYLUM IN THE U.S.?
Your spouse and children present in the U.S. may be included in your application when you file or at any time after that until a final decision is made on your application. Your children must be under twenty-one (21) and unmarried to be included as dependents. They should accompany you to your asylum interview.
CAN I WORK AFTER I FILE FOR ASYLUM?
You must wait at least one hundred and fifty (150) days to apply for work authorization after the United States Immigration and Naturalization Services has received your complete asylum application. It takes approximately thirty (30) days to know if your request for employment has been granted or not. If granted asylee status, you are authorized to work as soon as your asylum case has been approved.
CAN I TRAVEL OUTSIDE OF THE U.S. AFTER I FILE FOR ASYLUM?
If you have to travel outside the U.S. before a final decision has been made on your asylum case, you must receive Advance Parole before leaving the U.S. so that you will be allowed back in upon your return. Suppose you do not get an Advance Parole. In that case, your asylum application might be denied because United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will presume you have abandoned your request for asylum. It is strongly recommended that you should not travel to the Country where you fear persecution.
CAN I GET A GREEN CARD (LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT STATUS) IF GRANTED ASYLUM?
Yes. After one (1) year of your approved asylee status, you can apply for adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.
DOES THE U.S. LIMIT THE NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS WHO CAN BE GRANTED ASYLUM?
No. There is no quota limit on the number of individuals who can be granted political asylum; however, every year, there is a limit (10,000) on the number of people who can get permanent resident status based on political asylum.
Political asylum is a form of relief for those living in fear of present or future persecution in their home countries, based on their race, religion, national origin, political views, or membership in a particular social group. The asylum application must be filed within one year of legal or illegal entry into the U.S., or the applicant must qualify for an exception. If political asylum or refugee status is granted, the applicant may apply to adjust status as a lawful permanent resident. As mentioned earlier, it is strongly recommended to retain an experienced immigration attorney if you are considering filing an asylum claim.