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Political Asylum

Immigration Laws & Rights

Here, learn about political asylum: who qualifies, how to apply, and what happens after applying for asylum.

The U.S. has historically opened its doors to people seeking protection. People can apply for asylum because they have suffered persecution in their home country or have a real fear of suffering persecution in their home country due to their:

  1. Race,
  2. Religion,
  3. Nationality,
  4. Social group membership, or
  5. Political opinion.

What is political asylum?

Political asylum is both a form of protection and an immigration status given by the U.S. government to victims of persecution and refugees.

Many people think political asylum is only available to those with opposing political views from their government. In reality, asylum is a broad area of protection for people who are being persecuted in their home countries and can only feel safe in the U.S.

How do you apply for asylum in the U.S.?

To apply for political asylum,  submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, to USCIS. 

Attach a full personal statement describing your protected category; how you were persecuted; and what awaits you if you return to your home country.

In addition, attach any other relevant documents such as:

  • A copy of your country’s passport
  • Identity documents
  • Marriage records
  • Divorce decrees
  • Any evidence of membership in a protected category
  • Any evidence of persecution

Note: Many also apply for protection under the Convention Against Torture using Form I-589. 

Who is eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S.?

People who are citizens of another country who are persecuted at home because of their nationality, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or belonging to a social group can apply.

But that persecution should be real, not hypothetical. Also, if you have not yet been tortured or physically harmed—but reasonably fear future persecution because you are a member of a protected group—you may also ask for asylum.

To prove eligibility and win asylum protections, you must provide evidence of belonging to the protected category and evidence of persecution or abuse suffered due to being in that group. The evidence differs in each case and can be anything relevant, including:

  • Certificates and membership documentation
  • Medical reports
  • Police subpoenas and reports
  • Media publications
  • Written witness letters.

Can asylum applicants bring witnesses to their hearings?

You may bring a witness or an expert to your hearing to testify in support of your asylum claims.

For asylum purposes, does it matter how you enter the U.S.?

You can apply for asylum in the United States regardless of how you enter, whether with a visa or by crossing the border.

When can you apply for asylum?

File your asylum application before the first anniversary of your last entry into the U.S.

There are exceptions, however. Courts may allow the asylum claim to proceed before the one-year anniversary if the country's conditions have worsened or if you had extraordinary circumstances, like illness, preventing filing before the one-year mark.

What happens when you file your I-589 asylum application?

When USCIS receives your I-589 Application for asylum and Withholding of Removal, they will send you a Receipt Notice. Soon afterward, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment.

USCIS will collect fingerprints, photos, and biographical information at the biometrics appointment. Your name and information will be submitted to the FBI, Interpol, and other agencies that track criminal activity and terrorists worldwide.

Within 30 to 60 days of filing your asylum application, USCIS will send you an interview letter scheduling you for your asylum interview at an asylum office that serves your area.

What happens at the asylum interview?

You must attend your asylum interview in person. Bring all your family members who are in the U.S. with you. Also, bring all your original documents proving your identity, membership in the protected category, and proof of persecution or likelihood of future persecution.

Bring an interpreter! USCIS expects applicants to provide their own interpreters. It is smart to bring a professional interpreter certified to do immigration agency translations.

During your asylum interview, the USCIS asylum officer will review your application and personal statement with you and correct any errors or inconsistent information. After that, they will ask you about your background and for details supporting your story of persecution. Prepare to spend several hours in the asylum interview.

At the end, you will be told when to return to the asylum office and learn your decision in person.

What happens after the asylum interview?

If your asylum claim is approved at the interview, USCIS will give you the approval decision and the I-94 letter confirming your new asylum status.

If your claim is denied at the interview, this is not the end of your case. After the asylum interview, the next step is a referral to your first Immigration Court Master Calendar hearing. It will be in the Immigration Court covering your residence in the U.S.

If the Asylum Office denies your case, you will get a decision from the USCIS office. It will explain why your case is denied and your time limit for filing the work authorization. You will also get the Notice to Appear in Immigration Court (“NTA”). The Notice to Appear explains the government's charges against you relating to your overstaying your visa. It will cite the parts of the law that make you removable for overstaying.

Immigration Court Proceedings

Once the case reaches immigration court, you will have to attend one or two hearings. A Master Calendar Hearing is a procedural hearing. At it, the Court and Homeland Services will discuss the details of your case with you. They will give you a chance to argue why you should not be removed to your home country.

Generally, an asylum seeker must state their language at the first master calendar hearing. You must also give your address and say what relief you seek. This relief can be Asylum, Withholding of Removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

The immigration judge will ask you to submit:

  • An updated I-589 Application for Asylum
  • A final personal statement
  • All the evidence organized for the trial hearing. The evidence must be in the format and order required for asylum court hearings (The rules are published in the immigration court manual).

Once the court receives the updated asylum application, the judge will schedule you for an individual hearing (a bench trial of your asylum claim).

The timing for scheduling the master calendar and individual hearings differs between immigration courts. It also differs between the judges assigned to your case.

Work Authorization

Once 150 days pass from filing your asylum application, you may submit Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization Document (“EAD” or work authorization or work permit) to USCIS. It can take between three and eight months to receive the EAD, depending on where you live.

After receiving the EAD, you will have to apply for a Social Security card and number directly with the Social Security Administration and receive a Card from the Social Security Administration within six weeks.

Do you need a lawyer for your asylum interview?

The asylum interview is a complex immigration hearing. You would be best served by having an experienced immigration attorney with you to maximize your success at gaining political asylum. Your future in the U.S. is at stake.

What about your spouse and children?

The main asylum applicant can include their spouse and their children under 21 as derivatives in their asylum application at any time before the final individual hearing in immigration court. These family members will receive the same status as the primary asylum applicant. 

Filing for asylum legally "freezes" the children’s ages. It is as if they remain under 21 for the purpose of getting their derivative status. File for political asylum before your child turns 21. Then, their age won't stop them from getting derivative asylee status.

What happens after the immigration court approves an asylum application?

When the immigration judge issues a written decision granting you Asylum, you must visit USCIS by appointment after three weeks. There, you must pick up your USCIS Asylum grant document. That is the official document that declares you an Asylee.

With this document, you can receive EAD in the “asylee” category, and even apply for a Refugee Travel Document to be able to travel to countries other than the country from where you escaped and received asylum from.

How do you apply for a green card when you have asylum status?

After one year of holding asylum status, you can file for a green card by filing Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status to Lawful Permanent Residence, and may have an interview for adjustment of status. You will receive your 10-year green card after this interview.

How do green card holder asylees apply for U.S. citizenship?

Once asylees have had their green cards for five years, they can naturalize and file their Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. 

If you have asylum status, can you travel?

Asylees can file for a Refugee Travel Document using the Form I-131 Application for Travel Document. With travel documents, asylees can travel to countries other than the one they fled and got asylum from.

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