How to apply for asylum

This page has information about what asylum is and how to apply for asylum in the USA.

Asylum Applicants 2018
Photo: Hector Silva – Customs and Border Protection

IMPORTANT NOTICE: the US asylum rules are changing and it may not be possible for you make a claim for asylum at the US-Mexico border. Read the latest updates for asylum seekers.

What is asylum?

Asylum is when you receive protection from the United States government because you cannot safely return to your home country. Every year people come to the USA seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

This page is meant to help you understand more about asylum and to help you find resources if you need to apply for asylum. This page is not intended as legal advice.

How do I apply for asylum?

To apply for asylum, you need to be in the United States when you apply. If you arrive to the United States with a valid visa or way to enter the United States, you can enter the United States and then submit your asylum application. Most of the time, you must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States, although you can ask for an exemption.

Infographic of the asylum process in the USA
Overview of the asylum process in the USA courtesy of Human Rights First

What if I am on the US-Mexico border?

The US administration is trying to stop people from seeking asylum in the USA. Asylum seekers are being held in camps or detention centers. Children have been taken away from their parents. Read updates for asylum seekers on the US border.

In order to get asylum in the USA, it helps your case if you have evidence to prove you were persecuted or abused, and that your government did not protect you. The more evidence you have the better chance you have to win your asylum case to be able to stay in the United States. Be sure to always tell the truth, otherwise you could immediately have your case denied. You also need to be very specific about the details. It is important to spend time remembering exactly what happened, on the exact date. If you make a mistake, the government may think you are lying.

Here are types of evidence that you can use to support your asylum case:

  • Identity documents (i.e. your passport, birth certificate, student identification card, household registry, national identity card, or political party membership card)
  • Identity documents of family members who traveled to the United States with you
  • Marriage certificate and birth certificates for children
  • Academic records (i.e. school records, certificates, and diplomas)
  • Medical records from hospitalization or treatment due to mistreatment in home country
  • Jail or court records
  • Any draft asylum applications or affidavits that you may have created
  • Any document that has been filed with any part of the United States government
  • Any other documents that you think might be important

If you were not able to bring these documents with you when you fled your home country, that is okay. You can read more later on this page about proving your asylum case without documents.

More resources on our website

Help on the border or for those in detention

Are you on either side of the United States/Mexico border and not sure what to do next? Are you looking for shelter, legal support, food, and help with claiming asylum? Are you under 18? Here are some organizations that may be able to help provide you with basic necessities and advice for your case.

Know your rights as an immigrant

Resources and information to help you know your rights at the border and as an immigrant in the USA.

How to find free and low-cost legal services

Visit our legal resources page to find free or low-cost legal help.


Use our local resource finder to find resources and services near you. First enter your language. Then enter your city. Then choose “resetttlement and asylum.”

Other resources to help you apply for asylum

How to apply for asylum in the United States

An easy to read, step-by-step explanation with a lot of information on preparing for the asylum application process.

United States Citizenship & Immigration Services: asylum application

The asylum process, explained by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. View the I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal. Study the application. You need to fill it out within one year of arriving to the United States.

Frequently asked questions for asylum seekers

You might have many questions. Here are some answers for questions asked by people seeking protection in the United States.

UNHCR information for asylum seekers

The UNHCR pages about how to apply for asylum are in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

Asylum law and procedure

Learn more about asylum, withholding of removal, the United Nations Convention against torture, the process for applying for asylum, how to seek asylum while in immigrant detention, special immigrant juvenile status, and temporary protected status.

A guide to case documentation

A presentation about how to put together documents for an asylum case.

What happens during the asylum interview?

In this video, a lawyer pretends to be an asylum officer and asks questions that would normally be asked to you during an interview. This will help you prepare your own answers to the questions they will ask you.

How can I win my asylum case if I don’t have proof I was harmed?

This video is about how to win an asylum case even if you don’t have proof that you were harmed. It can be done if you can demonstrate that there is a pattern or practice of harm in your country.

Applying for asylum – winning your case

In this video, former Immigration and Naturalization Service Attorney Carl Shusterman talks about how you can win your asylum case through careful preparation.

Several ways an asylum case can be made in the USA

This video has more information about how you could apply and qualify for asylum in the United States.

Know your rights!

Know Your Rights Manuals for Detained Immigrants in Various Languages (Eng, Span, Arabic, French, Urdu, Mandarin, Somali, Hindi, Punjabi)

These manuals are intended to provide basic information to give immigrants an understanding of their rights under U.S. law during immigration proceedings or if they are arrested and detained by the Department of Homeland Security. The information in these manuals should not be considered legal advice, and detained immigrants and their loved ones are encouraged to seek qualified legal advice from the National Immigrant Justice Center or another credible organization.

If you do not have a lawyer

If there has been an order issued for your removal or deportation, you still have a chance for applying for asylum, even if you do not have a lawyer.

Here are some guidelines for filing for asylum without a lawyer:

Information for the LGBTQ community

Know Your Rights LGBTQ Asylum Seekers is a document for people who are afraid to return to their home countries because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) and/or due to their HIV status. You can also read the document in Spanish, French and Arabic.

You may have a defense against deportation if you fear you will be harmed or tortured if you are deported to your home country.  The National Immigrant Justice Center is available to provide legal counsel and provide legal referrals. You can contact the National Immigrant Justice Center at its toll free number: (312) 263-0901.

Applying for refugee status/political asylum in the United States: processes and organizations that help

Here are some helpful resources for information and assistance.

Asylum Seekers Housing Network

ASHN works with hosts to provide shelter and social support for asylum seekers. Hosts include a group house in Baltimore and individuals who open a room in their homes. Hosts and the larger ASHN community provide social support to clients.

Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE)

Tel: 443-850-0627. Provides a nurturing community and many services to asylum seekers and asylees, including case management, employment training, English classes, wellness and nutrition programming Monday-Thursday. Additionally, AWE provides transitional housing to women seeking asylum. Service area: Baltimore

Human Rights First

Their pro bono legal representation program matches good lawyers with asylum-seekers who need help and would not otherwise be able to afford high-quality legal representation.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS)

Tel: 410-230-2700. National organization for migrant and refugee advocacy and programming that works with many other groups in the U.S. They focus on refugee resettlement and community integration, alternatives to detention for asylum seekers, family reunification and foster care for unaccompanied migrant youth. Service area: Nationwide.

National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline

Tel: 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to BeFree (233733). A national, toll-free hotline that connects trafficking victims, professionals, and community members to information and referrals, as well as resources for training and technical assistance. Service area: Nationwide.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project offers services in community education, impact litigation, direct legal services, support for survivors of domestic violence and other crimes, asylum, family services, support for children & youth, citizenship, Deferred Action & DACA, and detention and deportation defense.

Rights in Exile Programme

This page shows the free or reduced priced legal services available in countries all over the world. Check for legal services in your country.

Anti-fraud warning

Read this information to protect yourself from people who are not real lawyers! There are people who will pretend to help you so they can keep your money. Learn how to recognize them and protect yourself! The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) made information to protect you from fraud. You can read and download the information in English. Or you can read and download the information in Spanish.

Learn more

The information on this page comes from UNHCR, 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. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.

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