The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for a grant of political asylum—and the right to remain in the United States indefinitely and eventually become a lawful permanent resident—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.

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. Having worked in human rights for many years, I am familiar with conditions in many countries around the world.

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.” 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 is usually quite short—generally about one hour. It is therefore 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?

USCIS generally schedules an asylum interview approximately 6 to 8 weeks after receiving the application for asylum. However, the preparation of all the documentation required may take anywhere from a few weeks to many months, depending on the complexity of the case. After the asylum interview, it generally takes two weeks to receive a decision. If your case is not granted by the asylum officer, it can take anywhere from a few months to several years to have your case adjudicated by an immigration judge.

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. LGBT people have been recognized as a “particular social group” for the purposes of political asylum for more than a decade.  If you fear persecution because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, 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.