Immigration Topics Explained:

Eligibility and Benefits of Asylum Status

Asylum Status Overview

What does is mean to be an asylee?

Each year, the United States welcomes thousands of asylees from other countries. An asylee is a person that has already made it to the U.S. border or the interior (by lawful or unlawful entry) and is seeking protection because they have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Examples of situations that may qualify as persecution include: imprisoned and tortured political dissidents or supposed undesirables; fired on protesters; committed genocide against a certain race; or made sure that members of a certain religion were left out of the political process.

If you are eligible for asylum, you may be permitted to remain in the United States, eventually apply for a green card, and even have a path to citizenship.

Difference between Asylum and Refugee Status

The difference between an asylee and refugee depends on where a person applies. Individuals outside of the United States must apply for refugee status. On the other hand, people who have already made it to the United States border or the interior (by lawful or unlawful entry) can apply for asylum status.

Eligibility for Asylum

Who is eligible for asylum status?

To determine if you are eligible for asylum status, USCIS will evaluate whether you meet the definition of an asylee according to section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In general, eligibility for asylum requires that:

  • You are present in the United States (by lawful or unlawful entry);
  • You are unable or unwilling to return to your home country due to past persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution if you return;
  • The reason for persecution is related to one of five things: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; and
  • You are not involved with an activity that would bar you from asylum.

To apply for asylum, file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, within one year of your arrival to the United States. You may include your spouse and children who are in the United States on your application at the time you file or at any time until a final decision is made on your case. To include your child on your application, the child must be unmarried and under 21 years of age. There is no fee to apply for asylum. CitizenPath recommends using an immigration attorney to prepare Form I-589 and document your past persecution or fear of persecution.

Working as an Asylee

Do asylees have permission to work?

You will need employment authorization to work in the United States. Working without authorization could jeopardize future immigration benefits. However, you may not apply for employment authorization at the same time you apply for asylum. Generally, you may apply for an employment authorization document (work permit) if:

  • 150 days have passed since you filed your complete asylum application, excluding any delays caused by you (such as a request to reschedule your interview); and
  • No decision has been made on your application.

If you are granted asylum you may work immediately. Although USCIS does not require you to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (work permit card), many asylees choose to obtain one for convenience or identification purposes. It's U.S. government-issued photo identification. So, a work permit can be a helpful document for new immigrants.

To obtain the employment authorization document, you must file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. There is no fee to apply for your first EAD if you have a pending asylum application or if you have been granted asylum.

Traveling Abroad as an Asylee

Can asylees travel outside of the United States?

If you applied for asylum status and have not yet received a decision, you should not leave the United States without first obtaining advance parole. An advance parole document allows certain individuals to return to the U.S. without a visa; however, advance parole does not guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the United States. If you leave the United States without first obtaining advance parole, USCIS will presume that you abandoned your asylum application. Traveling abroad with a pending asylum application can be risky. Contact an immigration attorney if your asylum application is still pending, especially if you intend to travel to the country of past persecution.

Once granted asylum status, it will easier to obtain advance parole. Although you may be able to travel back to the country of past persecution, this puts you at high risk of having your asylum status revoked. To obtain advance parole, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

If you wish to travel outside the United States for a brief period of time and return to your asylum status and continue to pursue your application for adjustment of status, you must apply for a Refugee Travel Document before traveling. To apply for a travel document, you would file a Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Obtaining a Green Card through Asylum Status

Is it possible for asylees to get a green card?

If you were granted asylum status, you are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) one year after receiving your grant of asylum. Your spouse and children are also eligible to apply for a green card if they were admitted to the United States as asylees or were included in your grant of asylum. If you are an asylee, you may apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum if you:

  • Have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after being granted asylum;
  • Continue to meet the definition of an asylee (or continue to be the spouse or child of such asylee);
  • Have not abandoned your asylee status;
  • Continue to be admissible to the United States (A waiver may be available to you if you are now inadmissible); and
  • Are not firmly resettled in any foreign country.

You are not required to apply for a green card; however, it may be in your best interest to do so. You may no longer qualify for asylum status with the right to remain permanently in the United States if country conditions change in your home country or you no longer meet the definition of an asylee due to changed circumstances. What’s more, you have a path U.S. citizenship after five years as a permanent resident. To apply for a green card, you must file the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. Generally, a green card holder may naturalize as a U.S. citizen after five years.

Note: When USCIS grants your green card, you (and derivative family members) will have your date of adjustment of status rolled back one year from the date your green card is granted.

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

Use Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) to apply for permanent residence while in the United States. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-485 applications. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

each year an average of
I-485 applications are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

How CitizenPath Helps You Prepare the Adjustment Application Package

How does an asylee file for adjustment of status to green card holder?

CitizenPath's affordable, online service makes it easy to prepare Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status. Designed by immigration lawyers, the Adjustment of Status Package helps you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. That's because the service alerts you when your answer to a question may be a problem. You'll also get customized filing instructions based on your situation. It's a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and provides a money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the application. Get started >>

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