Seeking asylum in the United States

Since its founding more than two centuries ago, the United States has held itself out as a place for people who are persecuted or oppressed in their home countries to come and make a new start.

Today, individuals can seek asylum in the United States if they have been persecuted or reasonably fear they will be persecuted in their home countries based on one of the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

Being granted asylum gives a person legal authorization to live and work in the United States. After one year, asylees are eligible to adjust their status to become a legal permanent resident and get a green card.

In addition, individuals who are granted asylum can petition to bring their spouse and children to America. Eligible children must be unmarried and under the age of 21. These family members can also be included on the initial asylum application.

Affirmative and defensive asylum

There are two different methods for seeking asylum in the United States. For both, an individual must be physically present in the United States in order to apply for asylum.

In the affirmative asylum process, an individual comes to the United States and actively requests asylum. In most cases, an application for asylum must be made within one year of the individual's arrival to the United States unless extraordinary circumstances warrant a late filing.

Most affirmative asylum applicants will be allowed to live freely in the United States while their application is pending and will not be detained. However, asylum applicants do not have permission to work unless they get special employment authorization. Employment authorization will usually only be granted in cases where an asylum application has been pending for more than150 days.

In the defensive asylum process, an individual raises asylum as a defense during deportation proceedings. Most frequently, this occurs when a person is detained after being apprehended while trying to enter the country without proper documentation. However, this defense is available to anyone in removal proceedings, so long as there is credible fear of persecution based on one of the five protected categories.

Working with an immigration attorney

Seeking asylum is a complicated process that requires individuals to provide a significant amount of proof about conditions in their home countries. In addition, asylum seekers must comply with strict timelines and procedural requirements. Even small mistakes can lead to an application being delayed or denied.

For these reasons, it is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney if you or a loved one is seeking asylum in the United States. A skilled attorney will be able to help you make your best case while ensuring you stay in compliance with all federal regulations.