The United States is the leading resettlement country for refugees around the globe. For people living in repressive, violent, or conflict-embroiled nations, and for those who are members of vulnerable groups around the world, asylum in the United States may often be a literal means of survival. In the fiscal year 2015, the United States resettled almost 70,000 refugees, and in the fiscal year 2013, the U.S. granted asylum status to more than 25,000 asylum seekers.
If you have fled from your home country – or if you plan to flee from your home country – and you are afraid to return, you may be eligible for either asylum status or refugee status in the United States. If you are outside of the U.S., you must apply for refugee status, but those who make it to the United States may apply for asylum status. Asylum status and refugee status provide legal protection to those afraid to return to their home countries. Persons granted asylum or refugee status are allowed to work in the U.S. and may apply for a green card after one year.
Not everyone who applies for asylum status or refugee status will be eligible. The general eligibility requirements are described below, but asylum or refugee status applicants should first discuss their specific circumstances with an experienced Las Vegas immigration lawyer. The right immigration lawyer can also make certain that your paperwork is accurate and complete, since any mistakes could delay your approval for asylum or refugee status. What must you prove in order to be granted asylum status or refugee status? You must prove that:
- You have been (or expect to be) persecuted in your home country because of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or your political opinion.
- You cannot go back because you have been persecuted or because you expect to be persecuted if you return.
HOW IS “PERSECUTION” DEFINED?
Generally speaking, “persecution” is defined as harassing, punishing, injuring, oppressing, or otherwise harming a person either psychologically or physically. Immigration law in the United States does not define persecution (with one exception discussed below), but historically, the immigration courts have determined that persecution may include threats, violence, torture, wrongful imprisonment, or denial of basic human rights or freedoms. Asylum or refugee status has been granted to individuals when the government of their home country:
- tortured dissidents or alleged “undesirables”
- fired weapons on protesters
- committed genocide against members of a particular race or ethnic group
- banned members of a particular religion from the political process
- allowed vigilante squads to gang up on gays or members of religious or ethnic minorities
The one persecution that is actually specified by immigration law – and that allows for asylum or refugee status – is the threat of being compelled to submit to a government-conducted program of “coercive population control.” This provision was offered for victims of the forced abortion and sterilization program that has been conducted in mainland China as a result of that nation’s “one-child” policy.
DOES GENDER-BASED PERSECUTION QUALIFY SOMEONE FOR ASYLUM?
Violence conducted or condoned by a sovereign government is the only violence recognized by U.S. immigration law. If your fear of violence is simply a general fear of crime or violence unconnected to a government, that is not sufficient to make you eligible for asylum status or for refugee status. In recent decades, the United States has also recognized persecution based on gender, and the U.S. has granted asylum status or refugee status to some women based on practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, or domestic violence condoned by or ignored by a government.
The truth, however, is that very few immigrants are actually granted asylum status in the United States. Asylum seekers constituted only five percent of the total number of immigrants who received green cards in 2011. Yet the need for such protection is perhaps greater now than it has ever been. Drug wars, ethnic oppression, and religious violence continue to dominate parts of Central America, parts of South America, and parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
To apply for asylum status, be sure that you get help first from an experienced immigration attorney in the United States. An individual seeking asylum is required to submit a USCIS Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) within a year of his or her arrival in the United States. There is no fee required to apply for asylum. A spouse and children (if the children are under 21 and single) who are already in the United States may be included for asylum status when you apply or at any time until a final decision regarding asylum status is rendered.
For spouses and children outside of the United States, those who are granted asylum status may submit USCIS Form I-730 (Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition). There is no fee. Those granted asylum status may also petition for a green card after one year by submitting USCIS Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status). You must submit a separate I-485 green card application for any family member who was granted derivative asylum on the basis of your case.
MAY ASYLUM SEEKERS ALSO APPLY FOR WORK AUTHORIZATION?
However, you may not apply immediately for permission to work in the U.S. – for employment authorization – when you first apply for asylum. After 150 days have passed since applying for asylum, if no decision has been made, you may apply for employment authorization by submitting USCIS Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization). If you have an asylum application pending or if you have been granted asylum status, there is no cost to apply for employment authorization.
When you apply for asylum, employment authorization, a green card, or naturalized citizenship, speak first to an experienced Las Vegas immigration lawyer. Your lawyer will see to it that your applications and accompanying paperwork are complete, accurate, and on time. An experienced immigration attorney can also address your immigration-related legal questions and concerns, explain your legal options, prepare you for interviews and hearings, and defend your rights during any immigration procedure. If you are seeking asylum or refugee status, it is always best to seek the counsel of a good immigration lawyer first.