IMPORTANT NOTICE: On August 8th, the Migrant Protect Protocols, MPP, was suspended. Asylum seekers will be allowed to enter the USA and await a decision on their applications.
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
- Work in the USA without applying for a work permit
- 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
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
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:
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.
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
You need to have documents showing proof of your identity and nationality, a photograph, written declaration, and country condition reports. You will need to provide certified translations of any documents that are not in English.
Recent laws have made it difficult for people to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Border officials may turn you away if you try to cross the border without a valid entry document. Tell a border official you fear returning to your home country and want to apply for asylum. You may be detained as you wait for your credible fear screening.
In some cases, you might be able to apply after being in the U.S. for one year. If you missed the deadline, you must meet strict requirements:
- Changes in the conditions in your country of origin
- Activities you have become involved in that change your fear of persecution
- Previously being a dependent on someone else’s pending asylum application
- Serious illness or mental or physical disability
- Legal disability, such as your status as an unaccompanied child or you suffered from a mental impairment
- You were wrongly advised by your legal counsel
|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.
You can list your husband, wife, or unmarried children under 21 as dependents on your application if they are in the United States. They will get the same decision in the asylum case as you.
They can also apply separately if they have been persecuted or fear persecution. An attorney can help you decide which is best. Children over the age of 21 or married children must file their asylum applications separately.
- 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 the closest USCIS office.
You can check the status of your application online by typing in your receipt number.
You may ask USCIS to expedite your asylum interview to process it faster if you meet certain requirements such as serious financial harm.
USCIS is interviewing new applicants first and working back towards the list of older filings. The scheduling order is:
- Applicants who were originally scheduled for an interview, but had to be rescheduled for certain reasons.
- Applications that have been pending 21 days or less.
- All other pending affirmative asylum applications starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings
An asylum officer will review your asylum application and ask you questions about your fear of returning to your home country. A lawyer can help you prepare and be at your interview. Learn what to expect at the affirmative asylum interview.
You must provide your own interpreter if you do not speak English. They can not be someone involved in your case such as your lawyer, witness, or work for the government of your home country.
The law guides USCIS 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.
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.
While you wait for a decision, you should:
- 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.
- Avoid traveling outside the U.S. except for emergencies. If you must leave the country, you will need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document with USCIS to re-enter the USA. You may not be allowed back into the country.
Yes. If you are denied asylum, you can ask for a judge to review your decision given by the asylum officer. This will put you in defensive asylum processing. An immigration judge will review your case and give a new decision.
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.
- 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.
TIPS: Be sure to go to all of your appointments with ICE and your court hearings with EOIR.
If you move, send a change of address form to ICE and EOIR within 5 days of moving.
The individual or merits hearing is when a judge listens to your story. Your lawyer and the ICE lawyer will ask you questions. You may also have witnesses speak on your behalf.
You will be provided an interpreter if you are not fluent in English.
The law guides 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.
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.
Yes. 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. An immigration attorney or accredited representative can help you with this.
If you are not eligible for asylum, you can see if you are eligible for another immigration status.
Next steps after being granted asylum
- Get help with resettlement services.
- Apply for a social security card.
- Get a driver’s license or state identification card.
- Find a job. You can work without having to apply for a work permit or EAD.
- 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.
- Ask to bring your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years to the U.S. Learn more about family reunification.
- Apply for a green card one year after receiving asylum.
- Apply for citizenship 4 years after receiving lawful permanent residence (green card).
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.