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How to Apply for Asylum Status

Procedure for receiving political refugee status

Like a refugee, an asylum applicant must also prove that he has a 'well founded fear of persecution' based on his race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion or national origin. Once granted asylum the person is called an Asylee.

Individuals Inside the U.S. may apply for asylum in one of two ways.

A. The application may be submitted "affirmatively by mailing it to an Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Service (BCIS) Service Center". The BCIS will schedule an interview with a specially trained asylum officer in one of the eight asylum offices in the USA.
B. Defensive application is submitted "as a way to prevent deportation when an asylum seeker is in removal proceedings". In defensive cases an Immigration Judge decides the application.

In either instance the application must be submitted within one year of entry to the US, or the person will be found automatically ineligible. Exceptions are allowed for extraordinary circumstances (see “Bars to Asylum” section below).

An asylum application usually consists of (i) the actual official form for asylum, (ii) affidavit (your story describing in detail the reasons you are applying for asylum, the basis for your fear in returning to your home country, country conditions, political situation in your country, etc.), (iii) supporting documentation for your statements in the affidavit, (iv) passport, (v) photos, (vi) marriage certificates, birth certificates, and (vii) other documentation. How we can help you.

The success of your application for asylum, among other factors, usually depends on:

  1. Individual circumstances, experiences of the applicant, and country conditions
  2. How well the case is prepared and documented
  3. The amount of harm (persecution) that have already resulted and the harm that would or might result
  4. How the applicant answers at an asylum interview. Whether the applicant appears to be CREDIBLE to an asylum officer and the claim of fear of returning to home country GENUINE
  5. Policies of the US towards applicants from particular countries.

A person can apply for asylum EVEN if he has no legal immigration status in the US (e.g., the status has expired). After the asylum application is accepted by BCIS the person can legally remain in the country while his application is pending. The person can then apply for a Travel Document (“Advance Parole”) if he/she needs to travel out of the country. The travel to the home country is, however, not recommended as it can undermine the person’s claim of fear.

Usually an applicant would get an appointment for an interview with an asylum officer within two months from the date of filing your application. If everything goes well at an interview asylum will be granted after the interview and the person will receive the decision in a few weeks. If the asylum is not granted at an interview, the case will be referred by an asylum officer to an immigration judge. The immigration judge will schedule a hearing day from 3 to 12 months depending on the workload of a particular immigration court.

The asylum applicant can apply for a work authorization within 150 days from the date of filing the initial asylum application.

If asylum is denied by an immigration judge the applicant may file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals (in Falls Church, VA).

While there is no limit on the number of people who may apply for asylum, of those applicants who apply based on a claim of persecution for coercive family planning reasons, only 1,000 may be granted. In Fiscal year 2001 more than 20,600 asylum applications were approved.

Like refugees, asylum seekers must, in addition to proving a well-founded fear of persecution, be screened to ensure they are not inadmissible to the US for some reason, such as criminal activity. Applicants for asylum must submit fingerprints and they are subject to check of all appropriate records and Information databases including FBI, BCIS, and State Department databases.

In recent years, the concept of what constitutes a social group that may be targeted for persecution has evolved. For example, some Women seeking asylum have based their claims on domestic violence. In this case, the civil authorities of the country have been unwilling to intervene in life-threatening situations, leaving a woman totally at the mercy of be-abuser unless she flees for her life. Sexual orientation has also served as the basis for successful asylum claims in some cases. In either case it is not only direct persecution by the government that serves as the basis for an asylum claim, but also the unwillingness of the government to protect someone who is in serious danger.

How does someone gain refugee status?

To qualify for refugee resettlement in the U.S., a person must come from a country designated by the Department of State. The person must meet the definition of a refugee by proving that she has a well-founded fear of persecution. The refugee applicant must prove that this fear is based on the possibility of persecution because of her race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinion, or national origin. In addition, a refugee must fit into one of a set of “priority” categories, which factor in degree of risk to the refugee’s life, membership in certain groups of special concern to the U.S., and existence of family members in the U.S.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Service (BCIS), in its overseas offices, makes a determination on refugee status on a case by case basis. If the BCIS decides the individual meets the refugee criteria, the refugee must undergo an additional screening for possible medical or security reasons that might make him or her inadmissible to the U.S.