As international conflicts continue, displaced people seek entrée into America

Those persecuted in their home country or displaced by conflict could apply for entrée into America as an asylee or refugee.

Millions of people have been displaced around the world in recent months as a result of natural disasters, religious persecution, violent conflict, regime changes and terrorism. In America, perhaps the most attention has been given to those people in Syria fleeing from a civil war that has forced the emigration or relocation of millions. Most news reports refer to these people as "refugees," but some of them may actually qualify to enter America as asylees.

While the terms "refugee" and "asylum" are sometimes used interchangeably, they are in fact distinct. The differences between these two programs are important, and you should understand how they both work in order to determine which pathway to the U.S. would be best for you or those you love.

What is asylum?

Asylum is a humanitarian immigration program that offers safe haven in America for people who are unable to return to their country of origin because of a fear of persecution, violence or death. For fiscal year 2013 (the most recent year for which data is currently available from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS), the U.S. granted asylum to 25,199 people, with citizens of China, Egypt and Ethiopia representing more than half of the total.

Asylum can be either "affirmative" or "defensive" in nature, and based upon a number of different grounds for persecution, including:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a social group/tribe/organization

An asylum application must be filed quickly upon arrival in the United States or the right to do so is lost! Under certain circumstances, family members may also be included in the application.

Once granted asylum, a person immediately gains the right to work in the United States and could, after a year of living here, apply for a green card to become a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR).

What is refugee status?

People classified as refugees are typically not leaving their home country because of individual threats of persecution, but in response to something systemic like a natural disaster, war or other catastrophe. According to data provided by the USCIS, in fiscal year 2015 alone, the U.S. resettled nearly 70,000 refugees from such countries as Burma, Iraq, Somalia, the Congo, Bhutan, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Cuba and Syria.

After someone has applied for refugee status seeking entrée to the U.S., he or she must go through an extremely thorough background check, medical exam and vetting process before being allowed to stay in America. The U.S. State Department reports that the average vetting time for Syrian refugees (as an example), is between 18 and 24 months.

After being in America for one year, refugees must apply for a green card to become LPRs or they risk being sent back to their countries of origin.

Need help?

If you or someone you love is facing persecution or violence in your home country, coming to America may seem like a dream come true. You may need help navigating the complicated U.S. immigration system to make that dream a reality, though. For assistance with all your immigration-related legal needs, contact the Quinn Law Firm. You can reach the firm via toll-free phone at 877-781-8091 or online.