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The USCIS and Guide to Being Granted Asylum in the US

Millions of people every year find themselves displaced due to one form of persecution or another. Groups of people have been subjected to terrible conditions for the entirety of history based upon their ethnicity, religion, beliefs or some other or much more arbitrary reason, but the fortunate thing is that there are countries that can provide much needed relief to these peoples. The United States is one of the foremost.

The United States is explicitly founded upon the belief that people need not be judged or persecuted because of their religion or what they happen to think. In this spirit, America takes in asylees and refugees from around the world.

In the United States there are two paths to claiming asylum: Affirmative and Defensive.


Eligibility for asylum is dependent upon a few general conditions and must be met to even apply.

  • You must currently be within the borders of the United States. You cannot apply for asylum abroad.
  • You have to apply for asylum within one year of your last entry in the United States. If conditions have changed or there is a reasonable explanation for why you didn't apply within one year, you must provide this information to the USCIS before the application process.
  • It does not matter what your current immigration status is, whether you are in the country on a non-immigrant visa or not. Permanent Residents are not eligible because they already have the right to live and work in the United States.
  • You can't have already been denied asylum, unless, of course, your circumstances have changed dramatically since the last time you applied.

Affirmative Asylum

The USCIS provides a guide to affirmative asylum that gives seven steps for the application process. Below is a summary of this list.

  1. The first step to becoming an asylee is actually entering the United States. This can be sometimes difficult because traditional means of entry will result in you being questioned by immigration authorities. However, this may provide you with an opportunity to file your asylum application directly at a border crossing.
  2. You are to file for asylum using Form I-589, the application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. This form accomplishes two things: it asks the government to not deport you, and it starts the process of getting a Green Card. Green Cards are also known as Permanent Residency cards and what they represent is the right for an immigrant to live and work in the United States. It is a declaration of official residency.
  3. After you submit your application you will receive a date for a fingerprinting application. Asylees do not pay for fingerprints to be taken. This stage is generally termed biometric collection.
  4. Step four and five can easily be combined. You will receive a letter asking you to come in for an interview at an Asylum office near you. The USCIS' Asylum offices are known for their high quality customer service, some of the best in the government, in fact. When you go to your asylum interview you will need to bring any dependents that need asylum as well. Your spouse too, if you have one. Depending upon the circumstances of the case you may want to bring a lawyer or translator.
  5. Now the Asylum officer will take a good deal of time to ensure that you are eligible for asylum in the United States and don't have any other conditions that may bar you from claiming asylum. Then, that officer's supervisory officer will review the decision and it may be reviewed yet a third time at the asylum office.
  6. A decision is reached and you will return to the asylum office to receive your decision. If it takes any longer than that the decision will be mailed to you

Defensive Asylum

Defensive asylum proceedings are definitely the less preferred of options, but you can still petition for consideration for refugee status with it.

The way it works is that you are taken in to custody and given a removal order. You can ask for asylum if being deported would pose a serious risk to you. Unlike affirmative asylum where you simply fill out and send in forms, defensive asylum proceedings take place in immigration court. It is highly recommended that you retain an attorney for the duration of the proceedings.

Asylum Decisions

The best possible outcome is for you to receive a Grant of Asylum and a completed Form I-94 in the mail. If this is the case you are legally allowed to be in the United States as an asylee. With this grant you can apply for employment authorization, a Social Security card, Permanent Residency (which would allow you to live and work in America indefinitely), and other immigration benefits for you and your dependents.

A Referral to an Immigration Court is not a all-out denial of asylum, but rather you must present your case to an immigration judge as well because USCIS was not able to fully approve your application. This is generally the decision when you apply for asylum with illegal status.

If the USCIS has Recommended Approval for you, you can begin applying for employment authorization and when the USCIS has completed its security checks you will receive a Grant of Approval.

If the USCIS decides that you do not need asylum status they will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny which allows you 16 days to respond. Depending on whether or not the USCIS approves your response you may either receive a Grant of Asylum or Final Denial for which there is no appeal.


Some references that you may find useful in your efforts toward filing for Asylum in the United States.

General information from USCIS:

More about the affirmative asylum process:

The types of asylum decisions:

A summary of the customer satisfaction results for the asylum office:

A list of things that will bar an applicant from applying for asylum:

Form I-589 - The Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal:

Form I-765 - The Application for Employment Authorization:

Form I-730 -The Petition for a Refugee or Asylee Relative:

Form I-485 - The Application to Register Permanent Residency, also known as the Adjustment of Status Form:

Form I-131 - The Travel Document Application: