According to the U.S. Department of State, President Joe Biden raised the ceiling for refugee admissions in the United States for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years to 125,000 people out of several million backlogged applications because of increased worldwide upheaval (i.e., persecution, socio-economic instability, and war) has caused “record numbers” of individuals and families to flee their home countries. Almost anyone from another country who believes they can find the support they need within the borders of the United States can apply for asylum.
This guide covers the basic eligibility requirements and application details.
Who Is Eligible for Asylum?
Any secure location that provides those in need shelter from harm can serve as an asylum. In the global geopolitical sense, a country can serve as an asylum that offers protection to people who fear persecution or have already experienced it in their country of birth or residency because of their nationality, political opinions, race, religion or societal group status. An asylum seeker experiences displacement from their homeland. They might have experienced severe conflict, human rights violations or violence before they fled to U.S. borders.
Asylum differs from other forms of assistance for immigrants and refugees because the United States agrees, as a result of international law, that it won’t deport an approved applicant or their family, when applicable, back to their home country. That said, the person or their family members must meet specific requirements. They must fit the description of a “refugee,” as described by the United Nations Refugee Protocol and the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. They must also apply in person at a port of entry or within the country. An asylum seeker can’t ask someone else to start the process for them outside of a family petition by an existing approved asylee.
How Can They Apply for Asylum?
At the border or in-country, an applicant for asylum must fill out many forms, deal with various government agencies, and pass background and criminal checks. They must also prove that they’re fleeing or at risk of persecution. The U.S. deports any applicants who fail to meet these requirements. An appeals process does exist, but an applicant who previously lost their case and pushed for an appeal, a defensive asylum seeker, faces more difficulty than first-time applicants. When applying for asylum, an experienced immigration attorney can help navigate the asylum process.
An affirmative asylum seeker starting the process for the first time must complete “Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.” They can apply for free within one year after arriving at a port of entry. Although the application is available online, the option isn’t available to anyone who must file by mail or submitted the form already and awaits a determination. Others who can’t use the online option include anyone in removal proceedings or dealing with an immigration court or the Board of Immigration Appeals and unaccompanied children. The applicant can use their assigned receipt number and the Case Status Online tool to check the application review process.
Any applicant can remain inside the U.S. while awaiting a determination regarding their initial application or an appeal. If the applicant has a family, they can request asylum for their partner or spouse and any dependent, unmarried children below the age of 21. Otherwise, adults in a family must file separately. An approved applicant with family outside of the country can submit “Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition,” as long as they do so during the first two years of their asylum.
What Happens After Application Submission?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reviews the application along with other agencies. When an asylum seeker needs an immediate determination because of a “positive credible fear,” the USCIS expedites the Asylum Merits Interview. Applicants who fail to receive approval enter into proceedings for removal from the country (i.e., deportation) or appeals. An approved applicant can live, work and travel in the U.S. and even use a refugee travel document to visit other countries.
After one year of residency, the approved asylee can request a green card via “Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status,” to seek permanent residence in the United States. All approved family members must submit separate forms. After four years, they can apply for citizenship, which entitles them to permanent rights and benefits and requires that they meet related responsibilities.