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Asylum: What You Need to Know

What is asylum and who is eligible?

Asylum: Protection granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Asylum allows individuals who have fled their home country due to past persecution, or who have a “well-founded fear of future persecution,” to find protection in the United States.  U.S. immigration law and international law recognize the following as legitimate bases of persecution in determining one’s eligibility for asylum:
  1. Race
  2. Religion
  3. Nationality
  4. Membership in a particular social group
  5. Political opinion
There are certain eligibility requirements one must meet in order to apply, including past persecution and/or a well-founded fear of future persecution.  Also, one must demonstrate that the basis or reason for persecution or feared persecution is on account of at least one of the grounds listed above.  Additionally, the application must be submitted within one year of the individual’s last arrival in the United States.
There are also several factors that may cause one to become ineligible for asylum. If more than one year has passed since the last arrival and there are no outside factors to warrant an exception to this deadline, the applicant will no longer be eligible for asylum. Those who have applied for asylum in the past and have been denied are also not eligible to apply. Finally, certain criminal convictions can deem one ineligible for asylum.

What are the benefits of asylum?

Applicants have the opportunity to apply for work authorization in the United States. However, this application cannot be completed at the same time as the application for asylum. In order to be able to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), 150 days must have passed since the application was filed.
Those who have been granted asylum (asylees) are automatically eligible to work in the United States. In addition, asylees become eligible to apply for a green card and gain permanent resident status one year after being granted asylum.

Can I bring my spouse and children from abroad?

If your child is under 21 and unmarried, you may petition to have them considered for asylum. You may petition to have your spouse considered as well. It is important to keep in mind that these child/spousal petitions must be filed within two years of receiving asylum. There are some exceptions to this rule, but the deadline is generally two years.   If your child and/or spouse were present in the U.S. and included in your application, they may also receive asylum.

What is the asylum application process like?

The process of applying for and receiving asylum can be quite lengthy. Due to a long backlog of applications, few resources, and changes to the scheduling priorities, applications may take years to be reviewed. Here’s what to expect if you are applying for asylum in the United States:
  1. Arrive. In order to submit an application, you must be physically present in the United States.
  2. Apply. If eligible, you will need to fill out an I-589 form (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) within one year of your last arrival in the United States (there are some exceptions to this deadline).  Consult with an attorney before filing because if your application is not granted, it may be referred to an immigration judge and you may become subject to possible removal from the U.S.
  3. Fingerprinting and Background/Security Checks. After your application has been received, you will receive a notice requesting that you go to an application support center (ASC) for fingerprinting. If you are applying with a spouse and/or children, they will need to attend this appointment as well.
  4. Receive an Interview Notice. You will receive a notice of your interview appointment’s date, time, and location in the mail.
  5. Interview. You may bring an attorney with you to your interview. If you are applying with a spouse and/or children, they must attend your interview as well. If you do not feel confident in your abilities to be interviewed in English, it is your responsibility to bring a translator to your interview as well.
  6. Receive decision. Generally, you will need to return to the office your interview was conducted at to pick up your decision.  Sometimes, decisions are mailed.  The average wait time is around two weeks from the date of your interview, but the processing time may be extended for a number of reasons.
Note: This information applies only to affirmative asylum applicants. For more information on the application process, see the USCIS website.

What is the difference between affirmative and defensive asylum?

Affirmative asylum is reserved for those who are not currently facing removal proceedings before an immigration judge, while defensive asylum is for those who are in removal proceedings. In addition, affirmative applicants must attend an interview, while defensive applicants must attend a court hearing in front of an immigration judge. Finally, those applying affirmatively must provide their own translator if necessary; defensive applicants are provided with translators by the court at no cost to the applicant.
For more information on defensive asylum, see the USCIS website.


  1. “Asylum.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceswww.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum.
  2. “Obtaining Asylum in the United States.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceswww.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/obtaining-asylum-united-states.
  3. “The Affirmative Asylum Process.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceswww.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/affirmative-asylum-process.
  4. “§ 1208.13 Establishing Asylum Eligibility.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceswww.uscis.gov/ilink/docView/SLB/HTML/SLB/0-0-0-1/0-0-0-11261/0-0-0-34922/0-0-0-35088.html.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general information and is not to be constituted as legal advice. If you need help with a specific issue, please seek the advice of an attorney.