Asylum is a form of protection that governments grant to foreign individuals who fear persecution or who have actually been persecuted because of their race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion in their country of origin.

To apply for asylum protections from the United States, a person must file a Form I-589 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) – the official name of the form is an “Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal”. This form must be filed with the USCIS within one year that the asylum seeker arrived in the United States. Asylum applicants are not required to pay any fee to have the application processed.

Family Members of Asylum

When one member of a family is persecuted for the reasons listed above, it is very possible that the person’s family will also be persecuted, especially if the original victim of the persecution was allowed to leave the area where the persecution was occurring.

For this reason, and to help ensure the unity of the family unit, the United States allows asylum seekers to include in their applications a spouse and any children the person may have. A same-sex spouse would qualify if the couple was married in a country or U.S. state that recognizes same sex marriages, and children must be unmarried and under the age of 21 in order to qualify.

Assuming that the victim of persecution is already in the United States and is granted asylum, but is separated from his or her spouse and/or children, then the asylee may petition the government to allow for the bringing of his or her spouse and/or children into the country by filing a Form I-730 with the USCIS. The official name of this form is a Refugee / Asylee Relative Petition. Unless humanitarian reasons prevent it, this form must be filed within two years of the original asylum seeker being granted asylum.

Upgrading to Lawful Permanent Resident

After an asylum seeker has remained in the country for at least a year, that person may apply for a green card, which is lawful permanent resident status, by filing Form I-485 with the USCIS. This form is an Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. Every member of a family must submit a Form I-485 in order to be approved for the upgrade from asylee to lawful permanent resident.

Lawful permanent residents have just about all of the same rights and protections as naturalized or U.S. born citizens, but because they are still technically citizens of a foreign country, they may not vote in federal elections, and they are still removable, or deportable, should they be found to have violated an immigration rule or criminal statute.

Working with an Attorney

Anyone who is thinking about requesting asylum from the United States government should seriously consider speaking with a professional immigration attorney. Because of the risks that an asylum seeker could face if he or she was forced to return home, seekers of asylum simply can’t afford not to go through the immigration and asylum process without someone who knows and understands it.