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What is Asylum?


If you are fearful of returning to your home country because doing so risks your life or freedom, you may be eligible to apply for political asylum. You must show that you have suffered persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution due to your race; religion; nationality; membership in a particular social group; and/or political opinion. Absent certain exceptions, you must apply for asylum within one year of your most recent arrival into the United States.


If asylum is granted you will be permitted to remain in the United States indefinitely and will also be allowed to travel outside of the United States. You may apply for legal permanent resident status ("green card") one year after being granted asylum and ultimately it may lead to citizenship.


How does an individual apply for asylum in the United States?

  • Applicants must file for asylum with either the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Asylum Division or – if facing deportation – before an Immigration Judge. The process requires applicants to provide detailed information regarding their past activities, associations, experiences of persecution, and current fear of future persecution. They must also provide information on conditions in their home country to support the accuracy of their claim. This information must be consistent with an applicant’s account of events and objectively support his/her fear of return.

  • An asylum applicant will be carefully questioned by either the USCIS Asylum Officer or – if before an Immigration Judge – questioned by the Judge and/or cross examined by the attorney from the government representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

  • The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish that s/he meets the legal definition of refugee in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Adjudicators often require evidence to corroborate the applicant’s testimony, if s/he is reasonably able to obtain it. The adjudicator then assesses the credibility of applicant’s testimony, weighing it against any evidence of record.

What is the legal definition of a “refugee”?

To be eligible for asylum in the United States, the applicant must demonstrate that s/he is a “refugee” as defined by INA §101(a)(42), which includes several elements, each of which has been defined in greater detail through regulations and case law:

  • outside of country of nationality or, for those without a nationality, outside country last habitually resided;

  • unable or unwilling to return to that country and unable or unwilling to avail self of protection of that country;

  • because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution;

  • on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.


Who is barred and/or excluded from asylum protection in the United States, even if s/he otherwise qualifies as a “refugee” under INA §101(a)(42)?

  • Applicants who have engaged in the persecution of others;

  • Applicants who have been convicted of a particularly serious crime and constitute a danger to the community of the United States or if there are serious reasons to believe they committed, a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States;

  • Applicants for whom there are reasonable grounds to regard as a danger to the security of the United States;

  • Applicants who have engaged in terrorist activity;

  • Applicants who have been “firmly resettled” in another country prior to arriving in the United States; and

  • Applicants who failed to file their applications within one year of arrival, absent changed or extraordinary circumstances.

Because of evidentiary and procedural requirements, it is crucial to have an experienced attorney help present your case. To discuss your case, contact us today.

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