What are the requirements for asylum in the United States? What is a refugee? What is the asylum process? Can I work while my asylum application is pending?
Who is granted asylum?
In order to be granted asylum, the applicant must demonstrate that they are a refugee. A refugee is someone who has fled from their country and cannot return because they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world, helping them build new lives, homes and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states. Historically, the United States welcomes almost two-thirds of these refugees, more than all other resettlement countries combined. Under the Obama administration, over 72% of the resettled refugees are women and children. Many are single mothers, survivors of torture, people who need urgent medical treatment, religious minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons, or others imperiled by violence and persecution.
How do I apply for Asylum?
To apply for asylum in the United States, you must be physically present in the U.S. or seeking entry into the U.S. at a port of entry. Thus, the first step is to arrive in the United States.
Generally, the application must be filed within one year of arrival to the United States, unless there are changed circumstances that materially affect the eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing.
There are two ways of obtaining asylum: 1) Affirmative Asylum Processing with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); and 2) Defensive Asylum Processing with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
Affirmative Asylum Processing with USCIS
Once in the United States, the applicant must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal with USCIS, within one year of arrival. Upon receipt of the application, USCIS will invite the applicant for a biometrics appointment, where fingerprints will be taken and background & security checks conducted. Soon after, USCIS will invite the applicant for an Interview, where an Asylum Officer will determine eligibility. A supervisor will review the decision to ensure it is consistent with the law and could approve or refer the decision for further review. Follow the link for more information about the Affirmative Asylum Process. To learn more about how the Asylum Division prioritizes the review and adjudication of affirmative asylum applications, follow this link to the USCIS Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin.
Can I work while my application is pending?
An applicant for asylum may apply for work authorization if 150 days have passed since the complete asylum application was filed and no decision has been made on the application. This is good news as immigration court is severely backlogged, with almost 500,000 cases distributed to less than 300 sitting judges. Recognizing this situation, the law allows the applicant to work while awaiting the decision on the application. However, USCIS cannot grant work authorization for an additional 30 days, which makes for a total of 180-day waiting period.
The asylum process is quite complicated. If you believe you qualify for this type of relief, seek the advice of an experienced attorney. For additional information on the Asylum Process, follow the link to the next part of this post.
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