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Who is Eligible for Asylum?

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Each year, thousands of people apply for asylum or refugee status in the United States. Some have already entered the country, whereas others apply while at the border. Those currently in the United States would apply for asylum; those applying outside the country would apply for refugee protection.

Regardless of how they apply, an asylum seeker must:

  • Be unwilling or unable to return to their last country of residence because of:
    • Past persecution.
    • Credible fear of future persecution from their government or groups outside of government control.
  • Persecution is defined as harm or serious threats to one’s life, the severity of which would not be avoided by moving to another part of the country.
    • Persecution is often due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
    • Examples of persecution include:
      • Death threats
      • Torture
      • Imprisonment
      • Unfair detention
      • Intrusion of privacy
      • Discrimination in housing, education, or other areas
  • Asylum seekers do not need a financial sponsor, and there is no fee for applying.

How Do I Apply for Asylum?

 If the migrant is applying for asylum at the border, they must undergo a credible fear interview with an asylum officer.

The interview will include many probing questions to evaluate whether there is a well-founded fear of staying in the country they are leaving. The asylum officer must ensure they fit the definition of refugee/asylum seeker. To be initially eligible for asylum, the migrant must have the burden of proof to show that credible fear exists.

If an applicant passes the initial interview, they will be admitted to the United States with a date, time, and location to appear in Immigration Court for further hearings.

If applying for asylum when already inside the country, the asylum seeker must do so within one year. Immigration status does not matter. The applicant must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. An immigration lawyer can assist in this process.

Anyone who is approved for asylum:

  • Can work in the United States.
  • Can apply for a Social Security card.
  • Is protected from being returned to their home country.
  • May request permission to travel overseas.
  • May be eligible to apply for government aid programs.
  • Can apply for lawful permanent resident status and obtain a green card.
  • Can apply for citizenship after four years as a legal resident.

Who Cannot Apply for Asylum?

There are bars to applying for asylum, including a person who:

  • Ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of any person because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
  • Was convicted of a serious crime, including aggravated felonies.
  • Committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States.
  • Poses a danger to the security of the United States.
  • Was firmly resettled in another country before arriving in the United States.
  • Was previously denied asylum, except if there is proof of changed circumstances that affect eligibility.
  • Filed the application after being in the United States for more than a year, except if application proves:
    • Changed circumstances materially affecting asylum eligibility.
    • Extraordinary circumstances surrounding the delay in filing.
    • Application within a reasonable time to be eligible for an exception.

An immigration lawyer can help an applicant file for an exception based on criteria for changed and extraordinary circumstances.

The above is not an exhaustive list. It is best to consult with an immigration lawyer for more information.

Can I Obtain Asylum for My Spouse and Children?

One can obtain asylum for a spouse and child, except if the spouse or child meets any of the ineligibility criteria listed previously.

Asylum seekers must include their spouse and children as dependents on their Form I-589 application whether they are:

  • Alive, missing, or deceased
  • Born inside or outside the United States
  • Under 21 years old or adults
  • Married or unmarried
  • Living with the applicant in the United States or elsewhere
  • Stepchildren or legally adopted
  • Born when the applicant was not married

Spouses and family members should attend the initial asylum interview and subsequent hearings. If the applicant is granted asylum, the family members listed on their application will also be granted asylum status unless they are barred from eligibility for the reasons outlined above.

Suppose a person is granted sole asylum and their spouse and unmarried children under age 21 are outside the United States. In that case, they should file Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, with the help of an immigration lawyer.

Are Fingerprints and Security Checks Needed?

The answer is yes. After the asylum application is received, all people listed on the application must have their fingerprints taken if over age 12 and under age 79.

Everyone applying for asylum, including spouses and children, will be subject to various background and security checks that include information in FBI and law enforcement databases.

How Long Does a Decision Take?

A decision on eligibility for asylum generally will be made within 180 days of the date of application unless there are complex circumstances. The immigration lawyer will keep tabs on the process.

Should I Bring Help to My Asylum Interview?

In many cases, applicants find it is beneficial to bring an immigration lawyer with them to both the interview and subsequent proceedings. A lawyer can help effectively plead their case for refugee/asylee status. Applicants often will use a lawyer for help with the I-589 and other application forms, as well. An interpreter is supplied by the courts when needed.

What is Withholding of Removal on Form I-589?

Withholding of Removal is similar to asylum but has more substantial criteria for approval. Withholding is generally sought by those who do not qualify for asylum because of prior orders of removal.

Those applying for withholding must show that they would more likely than not be persecuted in their home country if forced to return unless they can prove past persecution.

Only a judge can grant withholding of removal. It does not allow a person to apply for citizenship or bring family members to the United States. It does not protect the person from deportation to a third country and can be revoked at any time.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Advocate for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees

Persecution based on a person’s race, religion, or other attributes should not be tolerated. The United States grants asylum status to a certain number of refugees each year. Whether you live in the United States now or plan to apply for asylum at a border port of entry, the Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help with the process. From the initial interview to application to hearings, having a trusted and knowledgeable lawyer by your side can help you present a strong case. We are ready to get to work for you and your family. 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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