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Asylum

Asylum is a form of protection and an immigration status given by the US government to victims of persecution and refugees. 

America is a country of immigrants and has always opened its doors to people asking for protection because they have suffered persecution in their home country or have real fear of suffering persecution in their home country due to:   

  1. Race
  2. Religion
  3. Nationality
  4. Social group membership
  5. Political Opinion

If you are eligible for Asylum, you will be allowed to stay legally in United States, and to apply for a Work Authorization after 150 days from the date of asylum filing.

How to apply for asylum in the USA

To apply for Asylum, you must submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal to USCIS. Many people also apply for protections under the Convention Against Torture using the Form I-589.  Attach to the I-589 a full personal statement describing what protected category you are in, how you were persecuted, and what awaits you if you were to return to your home country. In addition, make sure to attach any other relevant documents including but not limited to a copy of your country passport, identity documents, marriage records, divorces, and any evidence of membership in a protected category and of the persecution.

Many people think that Asylum is “Political Asylum” only and is for those with opposing political views from their government. In reality, asylum is a very broad area of protection for people who are being persecuted in their home country and can only feel safe in U.S.

 Who is eligible to apply for asylum in the USA

People with citizenship 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 prosecutions should be real, not far-fetched.  In addition, if the applicant has not yet been tortured or physically harmed but reasonably fears future persecution due to being a member of the protected groups, the applicant also may ask for asylum. 

To prove eligibility and win asylum protections, applicants must provide evidence of belonging to the protected category and evidence of persecution or abuse suffered due to being in that group.  The evidence is different in each case and may be anything relevant starting with certificates and membership documentation to medical reports, police subpoenas and reports, media publications and written witness letters.  

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

You can apply for asylum in the United States no matter how you enter America, whether with a visa or crossing the border. 

When can I apply for asylum?

By law, the optimal time to file your Asylum application is before the one-year anniversary from your last entry into U.S.   There are exceptions, however. If the country conditions have changed for the worse or if the applicant had extraordinary circumstances (like illness or similar) preventing her from filing on time before the 1 year, the courts allow the asylum claim to go forward.

What happens when I file my I-589 asylum application?

Upon receiving your I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, USCIS will send you a Receipt Notice and soon thereafter schedule you for a Biometrics appointment. At the biometrics appointment, USCIS will collect your fingerprints, photo and biographical information. Your name and information will be submitted to FBI, Interpol and other agencies that track criminal activity and terrorists across the globe.

Within 30 to 60 days from the date of filing of your Asylum application, USCIS will send you an interview letter scheduling you for your Asylum interview at an Asylum office based on where you live.

What happens at the asylum interview?

You must attend your Asylum Interview in person and bring all your family members who are in U.S. with you. Also, make sure to 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! You are expected by USCIS to provide your own interpreter. We recommend bringing a professional interpreter certified to do immigration agency translations.

During your asylum interview, the asylum officer of USCIS will review your application and personal statement with you and correct any errors or inconsistent information. After that, they will ask you questions about your background and the details of your story of persecution.  You have to be prepared to spend several hours in the Asylum interview and your interview may take several hours, too. At the end, you will be provided with instructions of the exact date and time to return to the Asylum office and pick up your decision in person.

The asylum interview is a very complex immigration hearing and you deserve to have an experienced immigration attorney by your side to maximize your success. What is at stake is your future in the United States, ability to work and live here legally, and it is well worth the legal fees paid to a professional immigration attorney to stand by your side, prepare you for the asylum interview and attend the interview with you.

What happens after the asylum interview?

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

If your claim is denied at the interview, this is not the end of your case, but only its beginning. The next step after the asylum interview is a referral to your first Immigration Court Master Calendar hearing in the Immigration Court that covers your place of residence in U.S. 

If your case is denied by the Asylum Office, you will receive a decision of the USCIS office explaining why your case is denied and what your time clock is for the filing of the Work Authorization, together with the Notice to Appear in Immigration Court (called “NTA”).  The Notice to Appear explains the charges the government has against you relating to you overstaying your visa and the sections of immigration law that make you removable for overstaying the visa.

Immigration court proceedings

Once the case reaches immigration court, you will have to attend on or two Master Calendar Hearings. A Master Calendar Hearing is a procedural hearing where the Court and Department of Homeland Services will discuss the procedural details of your case with you and give you a chance to present your relief or defenses from removal to your home country.

Generally, an asylum seeker is expected to name their language of choice at the first Master Calendar Hearing, specify their address, and name the relief they are seeking, i.e. Asylum, Withholding of Removal, and protections under the Convention Against Torture.

The Immigration Judge will ask you to submit an updated I-589 Application for Asylum, a final personal statement, and all the evidence organized for the trial hearing in the form and order expected by the immigration laws for asylum court hearings (and published in the Immigration Court manual).  Once the Court receives the updated asylum application, the judge will schedule you for an Individual Hearing, which is a bench trial of your asylum claim.

The time frame for the scheduling of the Master Calendar hearing(s) and the Individual Hearing differs by the immigration court and even by the judge assigned to your case.

Work Authorization

Once 150 days pass from the date you first filed your asylum application, you may submit Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization Document (“EAD” or work authorization or work permit) to USCIS and you should receive the Employment Authorization document or card soon. Currently, it takes between 3 and 8 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 within 6 weeks receive a Social Security Card from the Social Security Administration.

What about my spouse and children?

Any time before the final Individual Hearing in Immigration Court, the main asylum applicant is able to include their spouse (wife or husband) and children under 21 as derivatives in his/her Asylum Application and these family members will receive the same status as the primary asylum applicant.  Once you win Asylum status, your spouse and children also will become asylum holders. 

Filing for asylum “freezes” the children’s age legally as if they remain under 21 for the purposes of their receiving their derivative status. As long as you filed for Asylum before your child turns 21, their age will no longer be a problem for receiving derivative asylee status.

What happens after my asylum is approved by the immigration court?

When the Immigration Judge issues a written decision/order granting you the status of Asylum, after 3 weeks, you must visit USCIS by appointment and pick up in person 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 I apply for a green card in asylum status?

After 1 year of holding the 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. 

What about US citizenship?

Once you have your green card for 5 years, you will be able to naturalize and file your Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.

If I have asylum status, can I travel?

Asylees can file for a Refugee Travel Document via Form I-131 Application for Travel Document and receive a Refugee Travel Document to be able to travel to countries other than the country from where you escaped and received asylum from.

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