Last Updated: 07.03.2020

What is asylum?

Asylum is a protective immigration status that allows immigrants who fear returning to their home countries to stay in the United States legally. Asylum applicants must meet the international definition of “refugee,” but unlike a refugee they apply for protection from within the United States. Asylum recipients can work, travel internationally, apply for a green card, and receive federal benefits.

Who is eligible for asylum?

To qualify for asylum, you must prove that you would be at risk of serious harm if you had to return to your home country. The harm must be based on your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. It can be harm you experienced in the past or harm you are afraid you will experience in the future. Examples of such harm are persecution by the government, persecution by someone the government is not willing or able to control, human rights violations, extreme economic deprivation, repeated threats, discrimination, harassment, and, in some cases, domestic abuse.

Obtaining asylum status in the United States can be complicated if you have dual citizenship or you have lived in more than one country. Certain criminal convictions also make you ineligible to obtain asylum.

If you came to the United States to escape a harmful situation in your home country, you must file an application for asylum within one-year of the date of your entry. If you miss the one-year filing deadline, you may still be eligible for asylum if you can demonstrate that the delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances or changed country conditions.

How do you apply for asylum?

Applicants may apply for asylum affirmatively or defensively. Applicants who are not in removal proceedings may apply for asylum affirmatively with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The first step in this process is to file an application for asylum. An asylum officer will then interview you and see if you qualify for asylum. The asylum officer can approve your application or can refer your application to an immigration judge who will then hold an individual hearing to review your case.

Applicants who have received a Notice to Appear (NTA) and are in removal proceedings may apply for asylum defensively in immigration court. Individuals are placed in removal proceedings when they are caught without appropriate documentation and found to be in violation of their immigration status. These individuals will present their asylum case to the immigration judge at their individual hearing.

Applicants who apply for asylum upon arrival to the U.S. will be given a credible fear interview to determine the credibility of their claim. If the asylum officer determines their claim is credible, they will be referred to the immigration court. If the asylum officer does not determine the claim is credible, the applicant will be ordered removed.

How has asylum law changed under the Trump Administration?

Since President Trump was elected in 2016 there have been many attempts to restrict asylum law in the United States. While most of the President’s changes impact procedures for asylum applicants at the United States-Mexico border, other changes have narrowed the asylum law as applied by Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges nationwide.  Given the recent changes – and the desire of the Trump administration to continue to narrow the applicability of asylum law, it is imperative that you consult with an immigration attorney before filing an application for asylum.

Do you need an attorney to file for asylum?

Applying for asylum in the United States is not easy. The process, whether affirmative or defensive, can take years. It involves extensive documentation of the immigrant’s life in their home country and sometimes involves expert t

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estimony. Asylum approval rates vary by jurisdiction, but an average of only 25% of asylum cases are approved. Chances of success are much higher for immigrants who have adequate legal representation.

Asylum law is extremely complex, so it is best to discuss your case with an immigration attorney. If you believe you qualify for asylum status in the U.S., contact Eldridge, Nachtman & Crandell today to schedule a consultation.