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 U.S.-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.

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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, 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

Who can apply for asylum? 

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

Can my family members apply together? 
You can list your husband, wife, or unmarried children under the age of 21 as depedents 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.

How can I apply for asylum? 

You must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the USA. There is no cost or fee to apply. You need to fill out and submit form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.

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

Can I apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border?
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. Learn more about the credible fear interview.   

What 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 will need to provide certified translations of any documents that are not in English. 

Can I apply for asylum after one year?

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 listed under USCIS’s “Who is eligible to apply for asylum?” section. 

How can I find legal help?

The asylum process is very complicated. It is important to try to find legal help if you can. You have a better chance of getting asylum with the help of a lawyer.


What happens after I file my application?

The asylum interview

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

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

Learn more about what to expect during your asylum interview.

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. 

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

I have been granted asylum, what comes next?

  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 5 years after receiving lawful permanent residence (green card).
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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.