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Who Is Eligible for Asylum or Refugee Status?

Who Is Eligible for Asylum or Refugee Status

Asylum and refugee status affords protection to foreign nationals who flee their homeland and are unable to return for their own safety. Under United States immigration law and an addendum to the United Nations Protocol of 1967, the United States is legally obligated to provide protection to those who qualify.

What Is the Difference between Asylum and Refugee Status?

Simply put, the difference is geography. The only significant difference between whether you are an asylee or a refugee is based on where you physically are at the time you submit your application. If you apply while living in the United States or arriving at the border, you would be an asylee. If you apply from outside the United States, you would be considered a refugee. Either status meets the same basic requirements:

Asylee. Those seeking international protection from persecution in their homeland are considered asylum-seekers. To seek this form of protection, applicants must currently reside in the United States or have arrived at the border.

The process of seeking asylum can take many years. Asylum-seekers may pass the credible fear screening and submit their application, but receive an interview appointment weeks, months, or years from the date of application. Once the application is accepted, they will achieve asylee status, granting them the ability to work legally in the United States and protection from deportation.

It should be noted that former President Donald Trump and the COVID-19 pandemic have made applying for asylum in the United States more difficult. The Trump administration created the Wait in Mexico policy requiring asylum-seekers to remain on the Mexican side of the southern border in large and crowded refugee camps. Additionally, if the Mexican government accepts asylum-seekers and will provide protection, they will not be allowed to apply for asylum from the United States at all. Currently, the Wait in Mexico order is still in effect.

Refugee. Those who flee their homeland over a well-founded fear of persecution and are unable or unwilling to return is considered a refugee. Once they have fled their country of origin, they must apply for refugee status with an official government or the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which makes the determination of status. Applicants for refugee status are not permitted to choose in which country they will receive protection.

As with the asylum status, the process of obtaining refugee states can also take many years. As they are not cleared to travel, those seeking refugee status are not permitted entry into the United States until their application has been accepted, granting them refugee status. In the interim, applicants must remain in refugee camps outside the United States, which can be dangerous environments and have meager living conditions.

Once the United States grants asylum or refugee status, applicants are allowed to live and work in the country and permitted to apply for lawful permanent resident status, a green card, within one year. Spouses and unmarried children under age 21 are also granted the same.

What Are the Requirements for Asylum or Refugee Status?

In the United States, eligibility for asylum or refugee status requires that you demonstrate a past, current, or future persecution in your country of origin based on one of the following five grounds:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • Membership in particular social groups

Proving persecution to one or more of these grounds, particularly political opinion and social group membership, is especially difficult, as you are required to demonstrate that one of the five grounds is the central reason for persecution. Because of this, the vetting process for obtaining asylum and refugee status is one of the most extensive and rigorous methods of immigration to the United States.

Persecution based on gender is being considered another ground for protection and is currently the subject of legal arguments. Under the social groups ground, there have been successful cases of foreign nationals achieving asylum status as a result of cruel cultural practices such as female genital cutting, marriage by force, and domestic violence. Protection has been granted especially in situations in which the government and law enforcement fail to protect women and do not punish the perpetrators.

Asylum and refugee applications will be denied if you have:

  • An affiliation with terrorist groups or involvement in terrorist activity
  • A criminal conviction in the United States for a serious crime
  • Are considered a threat to the United States
  • Actively engaged in the persecution of others

What Is Persecution?

Persecution if typically defined as inflicting suffering, harm, or serious threats of life or freedom through injury, oppression, punishment, harassment, or death. Qualifying examples include:

  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Constant surveillance
  • Death threats
  • Genocide of specific races
  • Pressure or force to join organizations that require participation in illegal activities
  • Invasion of private, home, and family correspondence
  • Discrimination against housing, passport issuance, and education

In the United States, immigration law is not specific regarding types of persecution, with the exception of coercive population programs, such as sterilization and forced abortion. Financial suffering, crimes against you personally, or being the victim of random crime do not qualify.

To further qualify, applicants must be able to demonstrate that the threat of persecution is nationwide in your home country. If relocating to another locality within your country would be sufficient to eliminate the threat, you would not qualify for protection from the United States.

In the United States, past persecution is not required, and those who can show legitimate fear of future persecution are likely to be eligible for protection. Applicants do not have to prove individual persecution as a member of typically persecuted groups, but do need to demonstrate persecution of similar groups, and evidence of belonging or would be identified with such a group.

Governments who fail to intervene when others are persecuting its citizens can also be a basis for qualification. An example would be if citizens are being threatened or kidnapped by guerilla groups for not joining voluntarily and forced to participate.

Will My Asylee or Refugee Status Be Permanent?

In some cases, either status becomes permanent if the threat continues in your country of origin. However, if conditions in your homeland improve to the point the United States deems is safe for you to return, your status as an asylee or refugee can be revoked, and you will be required to return. Typically, however, that action does not happen as frequently or as easily as it may sound, and you may also have the option of applying for humanitarian asylum to remain in America.

If you have experienced persecution in the past, there is a strong likelihood that you will again at some point if you return. The United States does take this into consideration, along with other factors. For example, if returning to your home country places you at risk for severe emotional trauma, an outcast of society, or if you have lost everything due to destruction, you may qualify for humanitarian asylum. Or you have the option of applying for a green card within a year, and citizenship after that, if you choose to apply.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Assist Clients Applying for Asylum or Refugee Status in the United States

If you or family members are seeking protection from persecution as an asylee or refugee in the United States, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC are available to help. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.

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