Asylum and Refugee Admissions

Refugee or asylum status in the US may be available to individuals who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution as a result of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  The difference between refugees and individuals who qualify for asylum is that refugees are generally located outside the US, whereas asylum candidates must have already been admitted to the US or seek admission at a US port of entry.  Details about the process for obtaining asylum and refugee status in the US are set out more fully below.  To speak with an immigration attorney about refugee admissions or seeking asylum in the US, please feel free to contact us.  We work with immigration clients in New York City, across the Tri-State area, throughout the US, and abroad.

US Refugee Admissions

To qualify as a refugee under US law, an individual must be located outside the US and not firmly resettled in another country outside her country of origin.  Candidates for refugee admission must demonstrate that they been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution as a result of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  Candidates must also be deemed by US officials to be of special humanitarian concern to the US and they must not be inadmissible to the US under other provisions of US immigration law.  Individuals who have ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of others due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group cannot be admitted to the US as refugees.

An individual who wishes to be admitted to the US as a refugee must first receive a referral to the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) through a qualifying agency.  Once an individual has received a referral to USRAP, she will be interviewed abroad by a USCIS officer who will determine whether the individual qualifies for resettlement as a refugee. 

Refugees who are admitted to the US will receive a medical exam, cultural orientation and assistance with travel to the US.  Upon arrival to the US, refugees are eligible for medical assistance and other benefits.  Admitted refugees may petition for resettlement along with their spouses and unmarried children who are under age 21 by filing with USCIS Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, within two years of arrival to the US.  Refugees admitted to the US are authorized to work immediately after arriving in the US.  

Refugees are required to file a petition petition for permanent resident status (a green card) one year after arriving in the US.  USCIS waives filing fees for refugees filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and refugees are not required to pay biometric or fingerprinting fees.  Refugees who wish to travel abroad after arriving in the US are encouraged to apply for travel documents by filing USCIS Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, to ensure readmission to the US upon returning from their travels. 

Asylum in the US

Candidates for asylum in the US must demonstrate that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution as a result of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.  An individual must apply for asylum either upon arrival to a US port of entry or within one year after arrival to the US.  Individuals who qualify for asylum under US law may apply for asylum irrespective of their immigration status or country of origin.

To apply for asylum in the US, a candidate must file USCIS Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.  There is no filing fee applied to petitions for asylum.  Candidates for asylum are permitted to add to their asylum petitions spouses and unmarried children (if the children are under age 21). Spouses and children may be added at the time of filing the petition with USCIS or any time thereafter, up until a final decision has been made regarding the petition.

Once 150 days have passed since the filing of the petition for asylum, candidates are generally permitted to apply for work authorization in the US so long as no decision has been made with respect to the petition.  An individual may begin work immediately once she has been granted asylum.  Individuals who have been granted asylum are not required to obtain work authorization documents but may do so by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization.  Individuals who have been granted asylum or have pending asylum petitions are not subject to the usual filing fees associated with Form I-765.

Individuals who have been granted asylum in the US may petition to bring their spouses and unmarried children under age 21 to the US by filing USCIS Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition.  There is no fee for filing Form I-730, but it must generally be filed within two years after the petitioner has been granted asylum in the US.

Individuals who wish to apply for US permanent resident status (a green card) may do so one year after being granted asylum by filing USCIS FOrm I-485, Application to Register Permanent Resident Status or to Adjust Status.  If additional relatives were granted derivative asylum based on an initial petitioner’s asylum request, each individual who wishes to become a permanent resident must submit a separate I-485 application package.

To speak with an immigration lawyer about asylum or refugee admissions, please feel free to contact us.