Can an Asylum Seeker in the US Study?

Asylum Seeker

Seeking asylum in the U.S. can be a challenging process with potentially lengthy waiting times. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your education though and put a halt on your dreams. 


If you were enrolled in higher education in your home country and want to continue this as you pursue your bid for sanctuary in the States, it is possible and this is what we explore below.


At Santoshkhourny we believe everyone has the right to improve their educational standing and the chance to better themselves through college or university if they wish. To that end, in this guide, we explain asylum for students, how the process works, and the nuances so you can successfully navigate the asylum process while still continuing your personal development.

Understanding Asylum Status and College Eligibility


To quickly answer the original article title – yes, an asylum seeker can study in the U.S. including attending college. This can be done if you are applying for asylee status, or you are transitioning from F1 to asylum status (student visa asylum). However, there are a range of conditions, nuances, and stipulations you must be aware of, and this is something an asylum attorney can help with.

Asylum Seekers Can Attend College in the U.S.


Asylum seekers in the United States have the opportunity to pursue higher education. While navigating the complexities of asylum status and immigration procedures, accessing education can be a vital step toward building a stable future. Understanding the nuances of eligibility and any potential limitations is crucial for aspiring students.


Essentially, you can apply to attend any college in the U.S. you wish and there is no legal barrier for asylum seekers who want to pursue higher education. The only stipulation is that you must have a pending asylum application i.e. you need to have filed Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal). You can’t simply arrive in the U.S. as an undocumented asylum seeker and enroll in a college or university.

This means that you can spend time researching the different educational institutes to find the right one that has the courses and qualifications you wish to gain.


Determining Your Asylum Status Beforehand is Vital

Before embarking on the journey of higher education, you must clarify your immigration status. Asylum seekers must have applied for sanctuary or be granted asylee status to be eligible for certain benefits, including the ability to study at colleges or universities.

There can be Limitations for Certain Professions too


While asylum seekers can pursue higher education, it’s important to note that certain professions may have restrictions based on immigration status. 


For example, professions requiring security clearance or licensure may pose challenges for asylum seekers. It’s advisable to research specific career paths and consult an asylum lawyer for guidance. Some examples of jobs that require a local or state license include:


  • Teachers
  • Doctors
  • Lawyers
  • Therapists
  • Electricians
  • Surveyors


The requirement for a license and the availability to pursue different career paths varies by state so it’s important to research this beforehand to fully understand what you can and cannot do. It’s important to note that in most instances, once you have your asylum approval letter and are a legal permanent resident, licensing restrictions no longer apply.

College Application Process for Asylum Seekers


As an asylum seeker, once you have established your pending status and found a range of colleges, it’s now time to start the application process. The college application process is intricate and there are a range of processes and dos and don’ts. An asylum lawyer can help with this, but guidance from a college admissions counselor could also be valuable.

The Application Process – A Step-by-Step Guide


Asylum seekers interested in attending college in the U.S. should familiarize themselves with the college application process. This typically involves completing applications, submitting required documents, such as transcripts and test scores, and meeting deadlines set by colleges or universities. Typically, the application process includes the following steps:


  • Checking the college application requirements on the official college website.
  • Providing general personal info (such as name, contact number, address, and email).
  • Providing your current immigration status.
  • Submitting the required supporting documents:
    • Previous school or college diplomas.
    • A detailed personal statement.
    • Recommendation letters (usually a minimum of 2-3).
    • Previous test scores.


The above is typically a universal requirement for all US colleges. However, different institutes may have additional steps or require more or less information. For example, some colleges only require submitted test scores as an optional extra. This handy article explains the college application process in greater detail together with useful tips.

Throughout the Process, Reiterate Your Immigration Status


During the college application process, asylum seekers need to communicate their immigration status. This can involve indicating asylee status on application forms and providing any necessary documentation to support their case.


Failure to do so will hamper your college application and cause issues further down the line. In most instances, not disclosing your asylee status will result in your application being rejected.

Required Documents and Deadlines for Applications


Asylum seekers should carefully review the required documents and deadlines for college applications. These may vary depending on the institution and the student’s circumstances. Commonly required documents include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores.


The standard application deadline that most institutes enforce is between November of the previous educational year, and February of the current session year.

F1 to asylum
F1 to asylum

Financial Aid for Asylum Seekers

Higher education isn’t free in the USA and this is something you must consider. As an asylum seeker, you may not have access to huge funds or be able to afford college fees. This means that you have to understand the available alternatives including financial aid and this is what your asylum immigration lawyer can assist with.

Eligibility for Federal Financial Aid


Asylum seekers may be eligible for certain types of federal financial aid to help finance their education. Eligibility criteria may include demonstrating financial need and meeting specific immigration status requirements. 


The minimum eligibility to apply for financial aid as a student is that you have a valid I-94 which is an arrival/departure record that shows your refugee or asylee granted status. After that, eligibility differs for the varying types of financial aid.

Available Financial Assistance Measures


In addition to federal financial aid, asylum seekers can explore other financial assistance measures, such as scholarships, grants, and private loans. Many organizations and institutions offer scholarships specifically for immigrants and refugees, which can help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses. A simple breakdown of potential financial aid includes:


  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Student loans
  • Aid from the state government
  • Aid for international study
  • Work-study jobs
  • Aid from colleges
  • Aid from the federal government


You can find more information about these specific types of funding via the official Student Aid website where a breakdown is given for each category and who to apply.

Resources and Further Reading


Asylum seekers can benefit from accessing resources and further reading materials on financial aid options and scholarships available to them. Websites, community organizations, and college financial aid offices are valuable sources of information and support.

Studying While Waiting for Asylum Approval

So, you’ve filed Form I-589 and are waiting for asylum interview date and eventual approval. What can you do in the meantime? The great news is, is that it is possible to study during this period, and there is the potential for work too, although a range of limitations apply.

Is it Possible to Study During the Waiting Period?

Asylum seekers awaiting approval of their asylum application can still pursue higher education in the U.S. However, it’s essential to be aware of any limitations, such as restrictions on employment or travel, that may impact their ability to study.


Additionally, although you can apply for financial aid while your application is pending, you may not qualify for funding until it has been approved. This can mean that your higher education and college tuition fees have to be self-funded.


This adds an extra layer of complexity to the process and it’s why using the best asylum lawyer in USA can help as they can discuss all the financial options available to you.

Student visa asylum
Student visa asylum

Understanding Limitations Such as Work Authorization

Asylum seekers should familiarize themselves with their work authorization status and any restrictions imposed during the asylum application process. 


While some asylum seekers may be granted employment authorization, others may face limitations that affect their ability to work and support themselves while studying. To apply for work authorization, the following process must be observed:


  • Wait 150 days after filing Form I-589 (Asylum application form).
  • File Form I-765 (Employment Authorization Document).


Simply put, you can apply for work authorization, but only after 150 days have elapsed from the date stamped on your USCIS Form I-589 receipt as per the asylum work permit new rules 2024. Once this time has elapsed you can file Form I-765 either online or via a paper form. Documents required to send with Form I-765 include:


  • Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance)
  • Two passport-style photos
  • Passport bio page
  • US Visa page
  • Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
  • Form I-589 receipt note
  • Biometrics note


After submission, the typical waiting time for EAD approval is between 3-5 months. Considering this, the total waiting time to work while studying and waiting for your asylum approval can be anywhere from 240-300+ days.


Despite this lengthy processing time, it can still be especially beneficial to apply for EAD as the average asylum approval time can be much longer than this. It’s only when you have received your approval that you no longer need an EAD to apply for employment.

Seek Guidance from a College Admissions Counselor


Navigating the complexities of studying as an asylum seeker can be challenging, but seeking guidance from college admissions counselors can provide valuable assistance. 


These professionals can offer insights into the college application process, financial aid options, and resources available to asylum seekers. College Admissions Counselors are typically independent individuals or companies that have fantastic insight into the US college application process and how to make a successful application.


Pursue Your Academic Dreams While Waiting for Asylum Approval

Despite the challenges asylum seekers may face, pursuing higher education in the U.S. is indeed possible. By understanding your immigration status, navigating the college application process, exploring financial aid options, and seeking guidance from knowledgeable professionals, you can embark on a path toward academic success and a brighter future.


The main takeaway from this article is that to enroll in higher education, you must have a pending asylum application i.e. filed Form I-589. It’s also important to consider limitations on certain professions that require a local or state license, and the college application process.


If you require assistance as you research higher education options or want more information, please don’t hesitate to contact Santoshkhourny. We are eager to help and believe everyone has a right to better themselves through the U.S. education system.


Can asylum seekers attend college in the U.S.?

Yes, asylum seekers can attend college in the U.S. However, it’s essential to clarify immigration status and any potential limitations before applying. The only stipulation is that you must have a pending asylum application, i.e. you have filed Form I-589 and have an official receipt from the USCIS.

Can asylum seekers apply for financial aid?

Yes, asylum seekers may be eligible for certain types of federal financial aid, scholarships, grants, and other financial assistance measures to help finance their education. A stipulation for claiming financial aid is that you have an I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) from the USCIS which shows your currency asylee status.

Is it possible to study while waiting for asylum approval?

Yes, asylum seekers can pursue higher education in the U.S. while awaiting approval of their asylum application. However, it’s crucial to be aware of any limitations, such as work authorization restrictions, that may impact their ability to study effectively. For example, you cannot qualify for FAFSA, and you can only apply for work if you have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Can student asylum seekers apply for employment while waiting for asylum approval?

Yes. However, you can only seek employment if you have an EAD (Employment Authorization Document). To apply for an EAD, you must first wait 150 days after filing Form I-589. Once this time has elapsed, you can file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization). Approval of your EAD application can typically take between 3-5 months.


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