How to apply for asylum in the U.S.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: MPP “Remain in Mexico” has been stopped. Title 42 is still in effect at the U.S.-Mexico border. This rule can make seeking asylum at the border difficult. Learn more.  

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.

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 
  • Automatically qualify for a work permit to work in the USA
  • Apply for a social security card, travel documents, 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

Asylum requirements 

You can seek asylum only if you:

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

You must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the USA. There is no cost or fee to apply. The steps you take will be different depending on if you are seeking affirmative asylum, defensive asylum, or had a positive credible fear screening.

There are 3 ways to get asylum in the United States:

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

Asylum merit interview
This is for people who were placed in expedited removal proceedings and had a positive determination in their credible fear screening. A USCIS asylum officer reviews and decides on the case.

Defensive asylum
The defensive process is for people who are in deportation or removal proceedings before an immigration judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). A judge reviews and decides defensive cases.

You may be placed in removal proceedings if:

1. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claims you entered the USA without proper documents
2. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested you within the U.S. for not having legal status
3. Your affirmative asylum was not approved

The asylum process is very complicated. It is important to review your options for legal help. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services and support. You have a better chance of getting asylum with an immigration attorney or accredited immigration representative. They can help you complete your application and prepare for your interview or hearing. 

Affirmative asylum process

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 not in removal proceedings, you can apply for affirmative asylum directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

You need to fill out and submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal

Credible fear screening process

If you are placed in expedited removal proceedings and say you want to apply for asylum, you will be referred to USCIS for a credible fear screening.

A USCIS asylum officer will conduct an interview to determine whether you have a credible fear of persecution or torture. They may offer you a second interview called the Asylum Merit Interview or refer you to an immigration judge for the defensive asylum process.

Asylum Merit Interview

If you have an Asylum Merit Interview, they will consider if you are eligible for protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). If they decide you are, you will be granted asylum. The written record of the positive credible fear determination will act as your application for asylum. You will not need to file Form I-589.

Defensive asylum process

If you are in a U.S. immigration detention center or removal proceedings, you can apply for defensive asylum with an immigration judge. If you do not have an asylum application already on file, you must fill out and submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal

Your case will be defensive asylum if you:

  • are placed in removal proceedings after USCIS did not grant you affirmative asylum
  • were subject to expedited removal, found to have a credible fear, and were issued a Notice to Appear (instead of an Asylum Merit Interview)
  • are placed in removal proceedings by ICE or CBP for immigration violations

The asylum process is very complicated. It is important to review your options for legal help.

Next steps after being granted asylum

  1. Get help with resettlement services.
  2. Apply for a social security card.
  3. Get a driver’s license or state identification card.
  4. Find a job. You can work without having to apply for a work permit or EAD.
  5. Travel outside the U.S. You must first apply for a travel permit. File Form I-131, Application for Travel Document with USCIS before your trip. A travel document is valid for one year. 
  6. Ask to bring your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years to the U.S. Learn more about family reunification.
  7. Apply for a green card one year after receiving asylum.
  8. Apply for citizenship 4 years after receiving lawful permanent residence (green card).
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Information on this page comes from the Department of Homeland Security, 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.