How to apply for asylum in the U.S.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: U.S. asylum laws are changing. It may not be possible for you to apply for asylum at the US-Mexico border. Read about the latest updates.

What is asylum?

Asylum is a form of protection that allows you to stay in the USA if you have been persecuted or fear persecution in your home country because of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 

Persecution is a form of serious abuse that harms someone’s life or freedom. It includes severe physical harm, forced medical or psychological treatment, unlawful detention or punishment, severe economic harm, extortion, robbery, severe discrimination, harassment, or threats of harm.


Types of asylum 

Affirmative asylum is for people who are not in any deportation or removal proceedings. An asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reviews affirmative asylum applications. 

Defensive asylum is for people who are in deportation or removal proceedings. You may be placed in removal proceedings if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims that you entered the USA without valid documents. An immigration judge hears defensive asylum cases.

Benefits of asylum 

When you are granted asylum you can:

  • Stay in the USA legally with protection from detention and deportation
  • Ask for asylum for your spouse and children 
  • Work in the USA without applying for a work permit
  • Apply for a social security card
  • Apply for a document to travel outside the USA
  • Apply for permanent residency (green card) and citizenship
  • Be eligible for resettlement services for a period of time, including financial and medical assistance, English classes, employment and mental health services

Who can apply for asylum? 

You can seek asylum if you meet the following:

  • You fear persecution because of your race, religion, nationality, political group, and political opinion
  • You are physically in the United States
  • You arrived in the U.S. less than one year ago
  • You have not traveled through a safe third country, such as Canada
  • You have not already resettled in another country
  • You have not committed certain crimes or are considered a threat to U.S. safety or security

Learn more about the different reasons someone is not allowed to apply for asylum.

Can spouses and children apply? 

If your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years are in the United States, you can list them as dependents on your asylum application. Your dependents will get the same decision in the asylum case as the principal applicant.

Your children over the age of 21 or married children must file their asylum applications separately. Your spouse and children under 21 years can also file their asylum applications separately if they have personally have been persecuted or fear persecution.  

An attorney can help you decide whether or not to include your spouse and children as dependents in your application.

How can I apply for asylum? 

You can apply for asylum by filing I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

You need to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the USA.

There is no fee to file for asylum.

Get tips on filling out your application.

The asylum process is very complex and can be difficult. You may have more success with the help of a lawyer.

Where can I apply for asylum?

You must be in the U.S. or at a port of entry to apply for asylum. A port of entry can be an airport, seaport, or border crossing.

If you are already in the U.S. and you are not in removal proceedings, you can apply for affirmative asylum directly with USCIS. 

If you are in an immigration detention center or removal proceedings, you can apply for defensive asylum with an immigration judge. You will have to file your asylum application with an immigration court called the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). 

Immigration Detention Hotline helps people who have been detained. Dial 9233# from a facility.

Can I apply for asylum at the US-Mexico border?

Recent asylum laws have made it difficult for people to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border. Border officials may turn you away if you try to cross the border or ask for asylum. Learn what to expect, how to prepare for the credible fear interview, and how to find help at the border.

Which documents do I need to file with my application? 

You must send documents showing proof of your identity, nationality, photograph, written declaration, and country condition reports. You must provide certified translations of any documents that are not in English. 

Can I apply for asylum late?

In some cases, you might be able to apply after being in the U.S. for one year. If you missed the one year deadline, you must meet certain requirements listed in USCIS’s “Who is eligible to apply for asylum?” section. You will have to submit evidence showing changes or extraordinary circumstances that prevented you from applying for asylum on time.

What happens after I file my application?

If you filed your application with USCIS

  • An asylum officer with USCIS will review your application and send you a receipt notice. 
  • You will receive a fingerprinting appointment notice with your local Application Support Center (ASC). 
  • You will receive a notice scheduling you for an interview with an asylum officer at a USCIS office closest to you. 

You can check the status of your application online by typing in your receipt number. 

If you filed your application with EOIR

  • An immigration judge with EOIR will review your application and send you a receipt notice. 
  • You will receive a fingerprinting appointment notice with your local Application Support Center (ASC). 
  • You will receive a hearing notice with an immigration judge to present your asylum claim.  

You can check the status of your court case online or by calling the EOIR hotline at 1 (800) 898-7180. 

The asylum interview

USCIS is interviewing new applicants first and working back towards the list of older filings. The scheduling order is:

  • 1st priority: Applicants who were originally scheduled for an interview, but had to be rescheduled for certain reasons. 
  • 2nd priority: Applications that have been pending 21 days or less.
  • 3rd priority: All other pending affirmative asylum applications starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings

Can I ask USCIS to review my case faster?

You may ask USCIS to expedite your asylum interview to process it faster if you meet certain requirements. These may include:

  • Serious financial harm
  • Humanitarian emergencies
  • Nonprofit interests 
  • US government interests 
  • USCIS errors 

Prepare for the asylum interview

A legal representative can help you prepare for your asylum interview. You can bring your lawyer to your asylum interview and immigration hearings. Learn more about what to expect during your asylum interview and tips on how to prepare for your interview

Can I bring an interpreter to my interview?

USCIS will provide you with a contract interpreter if you cannot complete your asylum interview in English. You are required to use a contract interpreter if you speak one of the 47 languages listed online. If you do not speak any of these languages, you must bring your own interpreter. 

Your interpreter must be at least 18 years old and speak your language and English fluently.  Your interpreter does not have to be trained or certified. In general, your interpreter should not be someone who is involved in your case. Your attorney, legal representative, or witness cannot interpret for you. Sometimes the USCIS officer will allow your friend or relative to serve as an interpreter. 

How long will it take to get a decision on my claim?

The law guides USCIS and EOIR to make a decision on asylum cases within 180 days of receiving applications. You may have to wait longer due to the current backlog. Many asylum cases are waiting to be processed. 

If USCIS reviewed your case 
USCIS will let you know when you can pick up your decision at the asylum office that interviewed you. USCIS may mail your decision to your home if it takes longer to process your claim.

If EOIR reviewed your case
The immigration judge will likely give their decision at the end of your final hearing. The immigration judge may choose to mail you a written decision shortly after your final hearing. 

While you wait for a decision

  • You can apply for a work permit if you are still waiting for a decision after 365 days and applied after August 25, 2020. The wait is 150 days for those that applied before then.
  • You should avoid traveling outside the U.S. except for emergencies. You will need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document with USCIS to re-enter the U.S. If you leave the country, you will not be guaranteed to be allowed to return.

Can I appeal my asylum case? 

Yes. If you are denied asylum, you can ask for a judge to review your decision given by the asylum officer or an immigration judge.

If USCIS reviewed your case 
USCIS will automatically refer your case to an immigration court. An immigration judge will review your case and give a new decision. 

If EOIR reviewed your case
You can appeal the decision of the immigration judge to a higher court called the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). You must file Form EOIR-26, a Notice of Appeal, within 30 days of the date of your decision. 

If you are not eligible for asylum, you can try to apply for another immigration status.

Options after being granted asylum

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Information on this page comes from the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Register, USCIS, and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible.

USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice.