The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for a grant of political asylum for certain people who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Asylees have the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely and may apply for permission to travel internationally. One year after being granted asylum, asylees are eligible to apply for permanent residence (green card).
Asylum applicants are not required to have an attorney. However, the approval rate for applicants who are represented by a qualified attorney is much higher than for applicants who apply on their own. This is especially true under the current administration, which has made it a priority to make it as difficult as possible for asylum seekers. However, many cases are still approved.
Having worked first in human rights and now in immigration for many years, I am familiar with conditions in many countries around the world and how to present asylum applications to ensure the best likelihood of success. I speak frequently on asylum-related issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a deadline for applying for asylum?
In general, asylum seekers are required to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. There are exceptions, however, for people who do not apply within the first year because of “changed circumstances” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Determining whether there is an exception to the filing deadline is complex and requires an individual analysis for each potential asylum applicant. If you have been in the U.S. for more than one year, you should consult an immigration lawyer to determine your eligibility for an exception.
What is the process to apply for asylum?
To initiate an application for asylum, you need to complete and submit form I-589 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The application must be accompanied by supporting documentation, which will vary depending on the specifics of your situation—no two cases are the same.
Once USCIS receives your application, you will be scheduled first for an appointment for “biometrics,” where you will be fingerprinted and your fingerprints submitted to the FBI for a criminal records check, and then for an interview with an asylum officer. At the interview, the asylum officer will ask you questions about your case, and you will be given the opportunity to explain why you deserve a grant of asylum. The asylum interview usually takes between one and three hours. It is very important to have your case well documented and to be well prepared to present the facts of your case clearly, concisely, and persuasively.
After the asylum interview (usually after two weeks), the asylum officer makes a decision. If the asylum officer does not grant asylum, you will be referred to immigration court, where you will be given the opportunity to present your case to an immigration judge.
How long does the process take?
It is impossible to answer this questions with certainty.
For applicants who are not in immigration court proceedings (known as affirmative applications), USCIS is required by statute to schedule an asylum interview within 45 days after receiving the application for asylum and to render a final decision within 6 months. In practice, however, this is rarely the case. Because of the scheduling process, a small number of applicants get interviewed within weeks but most applicants are not scheduled for an interview for months or years. The preparation of all the documentation required may take anywhere from a few weeks to many months, depending on the complexity of the case and the location of the documents. After the asylum interview, it generally takes between two weeks and several months to receive a decision. If your case is not granted by the asylum officer, it will be referred to immigration court, where it can take anywhere from a few months to several years to have your case adjudicated by an immigration judge.
For applicants who are already in immigration court proceedings, the application will be adjudicated at a hearing before an immigration judge. It takes between a few months and a few years to schedule an immigration court hearing.
Can I work while my asylum application is pending?
If your application for asylum is not decided within six months of filing the application, you may be eligible for work authorization until your case is decided.
Can I get asylum because I am gay (or lesbian, bisexual, or transgender)?
Yes. LGBTQ+ people have been recognized as a “particular social group” for the purposes of political asylum for many years. If you fear persecution because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, or even because other people perceive you as LGBTQ+ (whether you are or not), you may be eligible for asylum.
What other reasons are there for asylum?
Under the law, a person may be eligible for asylum if they fear persecution because of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Each of these categories is complex and poorly defined so it is important to understand the law thoroughly to determine how they apply to each individual case. If you fear returning to your country for any reason, it is wise to consult a lawyer to determine whether you may be eligible for asylum.
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This fact sheet is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice. Every case is different, and must be evaluated individually.