Asylum is a protection granted to foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the international definition of a “refugee.”


To qualify for asylum in the US you must demonstrate that you have been persecuted or have a “well-founded fear of persecution” in your country based on (1) political opinion, (2) religion, (3) race, (4) nationality, or (5) membership in a particular social group.




An asylee is authorized to work in the U.S., may apply for a social security card, may request permission to travel overseas, and can petition to bring family members to the United States.


After one year, an asylee may apply for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a green card). Once the individual becomes a permanent resident, he or she must wait four years to apply for citizenship.


Asylum application process:


There are two primary ways in which a person may apply for asylum in the United States. Both processes require the asylum-seeker to be physically present in the United States.


  • Affirmative Asylum: A person who is not in removal proceedings may affirmatively apply for asylum through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the USCIS asylum officer does not grant the asylum application, the applicant is referred to removal proceedings, where he or she may renew the request for asylum through the defensive process and appear before an immigration judge.
  • Defensive Asylum: A person who is in removal proceedings may apply for asylum defensively by filing the application with an immigration judge at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the Department of Justice.


If you are still in your home country, and the above applies to you, you may be able to get refugee status, instead of asylee status. “Refugee” is a person who is living outside the United States and intends to enter the U.S. because he or she fears persecution in his or her home country.


If you are in lawful immigration status, you can submit an application for asylum directly with the appropriate USCIS Service Center. Should your application be denied, you will remain in lawful status.


However, if you are not in lawful status, should your application not be approved by the USCIS, you will be placed in removal proceedings. If you are in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge, in addition to applying for asylum, you may be eligible to apply for withholding of removal and for relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).


Additional Information:


  • Generally, you must apply for asylum within one (1) year of your last arrival into the U.S. Exceptions may apply, such as: (1) changed circumstances in your home country that affect your eligibility, or (2) extraordinary circumstances related to your lateness in filing.
  • You may be barred from applying for asylum if:
  • You applied for asylum before and were denied by an immigration judge or the Board
  • You did not apply within one (1) year of your last arrival; or,
  • You could be removed to a safe third party country


To learn more about your options contact our San Francisco law firm to speak with one of our immigration attorneys.