Refugee and asylee status have specific, legal definitions. Here, the immigration law experts at The Law Offices of Eldridge and Nachtman explain how one qualifies for refugee status in the United States.

What is the difference between an asylee and a refugee? Merely where the person is at the time of application — asylees must already be in the United States when filing for that status, and refugees are outside of the U.S. when filing. If you are granted asylee or refugee status, you are eligible to stay in the U.S. indefinitely, but there are specific criteria you must meet in order to achieve be eligible.

The criteria are as follows: You must be unable or unwilling to return to your country of origin because you have been persecuted there in the past or have a credible and reasonable fear that you will be persecuted if you go back. Additionally, the reason that you have been (or will be) persecuted is connected to one of six characteristics: your race, religion, gender, nationality, membership in a particular social group or your political opinion.

Defining Persecution

Persecution is defined as hostility, oppression, and ill-treatment. While U.S. law does not specifically detail what counts as persecution, previous court cases have indicated what applies. Refugee or asylee status has historically been applied in cases where:

  1. Genocide was committed against a certain race, religion or ethnic group
  2. Imprisonment or torture of political or religious dissidents occurred
  3. Certain groups were prevented from voting or participating in the political process
  4. Violence was perpetrated by governmental forces towards protesters

However, this is not a comprehensive list; refugee or asylee status can and has been awarded in other cases. Specifically, these statuses have also been given to those who were victims of persecution by non-governmental forces, especially if the government is aware of the ill-treatment and does nothing to deter it.

Resources for Asylees in Maryland

There are benefits and programs available to you if you are an asylee in the state of Maryland. To qualify, you must have an Asylum Approval Letter issued by an Immigration and Naturalization Service Asylum Office or an original copy order from an immigration judge which grants you asylum. To apply for employment, you will need an Employment Authorization Document, a Social Security Card or an ID.

Some of the benefits and resources available to asylees in Maryland are as follows:

  • Free English classes
  • Free health screening for sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, and Hepatitis B
  • Eight months of free medical assistance
  • Short-term cash assistance
  • Food stamps.

If you are a good candidate for rapid employment, you may also apply for the Match Grant Program, which provides job counseling, cash assistance and placement for four months. There a limited number of Match Grants available, so you must apply quickly to qualify. For more information on state government assistance, visit the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees.

ENLawyers’ Bottom Line on Asylum Seeking Eligibility

The information above provides refugees and asylees a good foundation of knowledge to work from, however, the refugee and asylee process is a long and difficult one. A skilled lawyer can help the process move faster and more efficiently, and help guide you through the complex and confusing application or appeal processes. To speak with an experienced immigration attorney, or to obtain legal help for your specific situation, contact the ENlawyers today.