What is asylum?
Asylum is a form of protection granted in the U.S. to foreign nationals who have fled their home country due to fear of persecution.
To qualify for asylum, an individual must meet the definition of a refugee, which is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The process of seeking asylum in the U.S. typically involves the following steps (if applicant entered the U.S. on a visa):
Step 1. Arrival in the U.S.: The individual must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for asylum.
Step 2. Filing Application: The asylum seeker must submit an asylum application (Form I-589) within one year of their arrival in the U.S. However, there are some exceptions to this one-year filing deadline.
Step 3. Interview at USCIS Asylum Office: After filing Form I-589 application, the asylum seeker is scheduled for an interview with an asylum officer. During the interview, the individual must provide detailed information about the persecution they fear in their home country.
Step 4. Adjudication: The asylum officer will review the case and make a decision. If the asylum officer denies the application, the individual will be referred to immigration court.
Step 5. Immigration Court: If an asylum officer has denied the application, the individual is placed in removal (deportation) proceedings, they have the opportunity to present their case before an immigration judge. Immigration judge will review the asylum application independently of the asylum officer’s denial decision.
Step 6. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA): When an individual’s asylum application is denied by an immigration judge, they have the right to appeal that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA reviews the judge’s decision to determine if legal errors were made or if there are grounds to overturn the decision.
Asylum is a complex legal process, and individuals seeking asylum often benefit from the assistance of an immigration attorney.
It’s important to note that changes in immigration policies and regulations can impact the asylum process, so individuals seeking asylum should stay informed about current laws and procedures on the USCIS official Form I-589 page.
Who qualifies for asylum in the U.S.?
To qualify for asylum in the U.S., the applicant must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on one or more of the following grounds:
- Race: The person belongs to a particular race or racial group.
- Religion: The person is a member of a particular religion or religious group.
- Nationality: The person is a member of a particular nationality.
- Membership in a particular social group: The person is a member of a group of people with a common characteristic that is either innate, such as gender or sexual orientation, or not easily changeable, such as a former gang member or a witness to a crime.
- Political opinion: The person holds a political opinion that is a fundamental part of their identity, and they are persecuted for that opinion.
To successfully apply for asylum, the applicant must provide:
- Evidence supporting the claim (for example, medical records, police records, pictures of injuries, newspapers, country reports, etc.), and
- A detailed narrative that outlines their claim of a well-founded fear of persecution on one or more of these grounds.
It’s important to note that persecution can take various forms, including:
- Physical harm
- Other forms of mistreatment
Additionally, there are certain legal requirements and procedures that applicants must follow, including filing the asylum application within one year of their arrival in the U.S., unless they can demonstrate changed circumstances or extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing on time.
It’s highly recommended for individuals seeking asylum to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to navigate the complex asylum process and understand their rights and obligations.
The asylum process can be challenging, and legal representation can significantly improve an applicant’s chances of success.
How to apply for asylum in the U.S.?
Applying for asylum in the U.S. involves the following steps:
Step 1. Eligibility Determination:
- Ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria for asylum. You must have a well-founded fear of persecution in your home country based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Step 2. Timely Filing:
- File your asylum application within one year of your arrival in the U.S. Failure to apply for asylum timely might lead to your application denial even if you meet the eligibility criteria. USCIS must receive your properly completed Form I-589 within one year of your arrival in the U.S. There are exceptions to this one-year filing deadline for changed or extraordinary circumstances (for example, death of a family member, birth of a child, hospitalization, surgery, etc.)
- If you need additional time to obtain all supporting documents, you may file Form I-589 with the documents you already have available and submit the remaining documents later.
Step 3. Prepare Form I-589:
- Complete Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. This form is available on the website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Step 4. Include Supporting Documents:
- Gather supporting documents that provide evidence of your eligibility for asylum. This may include personal statements, affidavits, country condition reports, and any other relevant documentation. See a detailed checklist of required documents below.
Step 5. USCIS Submission:
- Submit your completed Form I-589 and supporting documents to the USCIS. Form I-589 application can be submitted online or hard copy by mail. Check the latest Form I-589 USCIS instructions.
Step 6. Receive USCIS notice:
- If your Form I-589 is registered by USCIS, you will receive an official notice (“Form I-797C, Notice of Action). This notice confirms that your asylum application was registered. You will be assigned an Alien Registration Number (A number) which serves as your unique identification number for immigration purposes. You will also find a receipt number on the notice. You can track the status of your application online by entering this receipt number on the USCIS website.
Step 7. Biometrics Appointment:
- After submitting your application, you will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. During this appointment, your fingerprints, picture, and signature will be taken. Attending the biometric appointment is mandatory.
Step 8. Apply for Employment Authorization Document (EAD):
- After your asylum application has been pending for at least 150 days, you can apply for employment authorization (Form I-765). Do not file the EAD application too early, otherwise your application will be denied. There’s no filing fee for the first EAD. Your EAD category is (c)(8). The EAD will be valid for 2 years and you can renew it up until a final decision is made on your case (if you meet certain requirements). Before filing the application, check the most recent USCIS Form I-765 instructions, since the rules are subject to change.
Step 8. Asylum Interview:
- You will be scheduled for an asylum interview with an asylum officer. During the interview, you will be required to provide detailed information about the persecution you fear in your home country. USCIS asylum offices are backlogged, so it can take up to 10 years from the filing date for the interview to be scheduled.
Step 9. Asylum Interview Decision:
- The asylum officer will make a decision on your case typically within 2 weeks after the interview date. If granted asylum, you will be eligible to live and work in the U.S. for an indefinite period of time. If denied, you will be referred to immigration court where your asylum application will be reviewed again by immigration judge.
Step 10. Immigration Court:
- If your application is denied by the asylum officer, removal (deportation) proceedings will be initiated. You will have the opportunity to present your case before an immigration judge in immigration court.
Step 11. Appeals (optional):
- If your case is denied, you may have the option to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and federal courts.
How much does it cost to apply for asylum in the U.S.?
There is no fee to apply for asylum in the U.S.
The application itself, Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal), does not have a filing fee.
Additionally, there is no fee for the biometrics appointment or for the asylum interview.
There is no fee for the first Employment Authorization Document (EAD, Form I-765) based on a pending asylum application.
However, there’s a $410 filing fee for all further EAD renewal applications. Check the current Form I-765 filing fee on the USCIS website.
Asylum application checklist of required documents
When applying for asylum in the U.S., it’s important to submit a well-documented application to support your claim.
While the specific documents required may vary based on individual circumstances, here is a general checklist of documents that you need to include in your asylum application:
Examples of acceptable documents
(submit PHOTOCOPIES only)
|Signed and dated Form I-589
|Applicant’s color passport-style
|Certified English translation
|Applicant’s birth certificate
|Applicant’s ID documents
|U.S. entry documentation
|Detailed sworn declaration
|Proof of affiliation
|Mental health records
|Articles describing the events mentioned in the applicant’s sworn declaration:
|County expert report and/or testimony
|Country Conditions Reports
|Additional copies of the application for each family member
|If adding family members in your application
How long does it take to obtain asylum in the U.S.?
It can take anywhere from 2 months to 15 years to obtain asylum in the U.S.
The processing time for asylum applications can vary based on the following factors:
- Workload of the immigration authorities (USCIS and immigration courts)
- Complexity of the case
- Specific circumstances of the applicant.
Below is a general timeline of the asylum process:
- Filing the Asylum Application: After filing Form I-589, the applicant will receive a registration notice within a few weeks.
- Biometrics Appointment: The biometrics appointment usually is scheduled within 1-2 months after filing the application.
- Asylum Interview: Following the biometrics appointment, the applicant will be scheduled for an asylum interview with an asylum officer. The scheduling of the interview can take anywhere from 1.5 months to 10 years.
- Decision: After the interview, the asylum officer will make a decision. The timeframe for receiving a decision is 2 weeks. In some cases, it might take longer.
- Immigration Court Proceedings (if necessary): If the asylum application is denied, the applicant will be referred to immigration court. Immigration court proceedings can take anywhere from 6 months to 5 years.
- Appeals (if necessary): If the case goes to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the time required for the appeal process is 2-4 years.
It’s important to note that these timeframes are general estimates, and individual cases may experience shorter or longer processing times.
Can I apply for employment authorization after I apply for asylum?
Yes, after your asylum application is registered, you can apply for employment authorization while your asylum application is pending.
To do so, you must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Below is the Employment Authorization application process:
Step 1. Eligibility:
- You are eligible to apply for employment authorization 150 days after submitting an asylum application. You cannot file it earlier.
Step 2. Filing Form I-765:
- Complete and submit Form I-765 to USCIS. Along with the form, you will need to include supporting documentation, such as a copy of your Form I-589 receipt notice (acknowledging your asylum application) and any other required documents specified in the Form I-765 instructions.
- There is no filing fee for your first Form I-765 application
- Your filing category is (c)(8) – based on a pending asylum application
Step 3. Biometrics Appointment:
- Once USCIS receives your Form I-765, you will be scheduled for a biometrics appointment, during which your fingerprints, photograph, and signature will be collected. Sometimes USCIS can reuse previously collected biometrics and you will not be required to attend the appointment again.
Step 3. Processing Time:
- The processing time for Form I-765 can take anywhere from 1.5 months to 6 months to complete. You can check the USCIS website for the most current processing times.
Step 4. Issuance of Employment Authorization Document (EAD):
- If your application is approved, you will be issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), commonly known as a work permit. The EAD will be valid for 2 years.
Step 5. Renewal:
- If your asylum application is still pending when your initial EAD expires, you can apply for a renewal of your employment authorization.
- You can file a renewal application 6 months before the expiration date of your current EAD.
- There’s a $410 filing fee for EAD renewal applications
- Renewed EAD will be valid for 2 years
Difference between asylum and refugee
The terms “asylum” and “refugee” both pertain to protection for individuals who have fled their home countries due to fear of persecution, but they differ in the way this protection is sought and granted:
- Definition: Asylum is a form of protection granted to individuals who are already present in the country and who meet the legal definition of a refugee.
- Application Process: To seek asylum, individuals must apply while physically present in the country. They submit an application, Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal), and go through an asylum interview process.
- Location of Application: Asylum is applied for and granted within the host country.
- Status: If granted asylum, individuals are allowed to stay in the host country and may eventually apply for permanent residency and other immigration benefits.
- Definition: A refugee is someone who is located outside their home country and has been forced to flee because of persecution, war, or violence. The person has been recognized as a refugee under international law.
- Application Process: Refugees do not apply for refugee status directly. Instead, they are often referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or a designated resettlement country by a third party, such as a non-governmental organization or a government.
- Location of Application: Refugees apply for resettlement from outside the host country, often in refugee camps or other temporary locations.
- Status: If granted refugee status, individuals may be resettled to a third country, where they can apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship. The process involves screening and approval by the resettlement country’s authorities.