Asylum in the United States

A nation that offers asylum is offering a “place of refuge and protection” to those fleeing from danger.  The right to asylum has its roots far back in human history.  In fact, the word “asylum” comes from the ancient Greeks, who offered it.  Asylum has also been offered by religious groups. 

In modern times, the United States, the leader of the free world, has offered asylum to those fleeing political persecution and danger in their home countries.  Since World War II, the United States has taken in more refugees than any other nation, although other nations have taken in more refugees in proportion to their populations.  This is especially true in recent years.  The policies of the Trump administration suggest that it will most likely be more difficult for immigrants to gain asylum in the United States.

To qualify for asylum, the applicant must either have suffered persecution or have a "well founded" fear of suffering persecution if forced to return to his or her home country. Persecution may be due to race, religion, nationality, sexual identity, membership in a particular social group or to political opinion. The source of the persecution may be either a foreign government or non-government parties outside of the control of the government.

Asylum may be sought as an affirmative application.  That is, the applicant may argue that asylum should be granted, because he or she needs the protection of the United States.  Asylum may be sought at an American port of entry or anywhere in the United States. An application for asylum may be made by people who have arrived legally or illegally in the United States. There is no limit to the number of people who may be granted asylum. In a typical year, approximately 20,000 people are granted asylum.

Asylum may be sought by submitting an application within one year of entry into the United States. The one year rule will be waived if the applicant can show changed circumstances that materially affect his or her eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing. In addition, the applicant must have filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.

Asylum may also be sought as a defense to removal proceedings.  This can happen in one of two ways.  First, if the applicant’s asylum application has been denied, has been placed in removal proceedings, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, commonly known as USCIS, refers the matter to a judge for final determination. 

The other way that asylum may be sought as a defense to removal proceedings is if the applicant was apprehended without the legal right to be in the United States, because the applicant either entered the United States without permission or stayed after his or her visa expired. 

An immigration judge will decide whether to grant asylum.  If the judge denies the asylum application, the judge will determine if there are any other grounds for granting legal status.  If asylum is denied and no other grounds for granting legal status exist, the judge will order that the individual be deported from the United States.  The decision of the judge can be appealed.

If asylum is granted, the applicant may apply for a work permit. One year after being granted asylum, the applicant may apply for permanent residency, which is also known as a green card. The applicant will also obtain the right to live in the United States and may apply to have his or her spouse and unmarried children who are younger than 21 obtain legal status in the United States.