How Asylum Works?


Asylum, often misconceived as a straightforward border-crossing process, entails a meticulous and stringent procedure for individuals seeking refuge from persecution in their home countries. 


This article delves into the intricate workings of immigration, dispelling myths and providing a comprehensive understanding of the asylum process. 


From defining asylum to exploring real-world examples and the challenges faced by refugees, we help you navigate through the complexities of seeking asylum in the United States. Hopefully, this allows you to secure a brighter, safer future without fear of persecution.

What is Asylum? Understanding the Basics


It is a legal protection granted to individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries. It offers refuge and safety to those facing threats to their lives or freedoms.

What are the Common Reasons for Asylum?


People seek sanctuary due to various forms of persecution, including political, religious, or social oppression, as well as threats based on race, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.


Unfortunately, in many countries, persecution is still a real issue. This could be due to changes in government, threats to minority religious or ethnic groups, and outbreaks of war. 


As a result of these consequences, it often becomes difficult and dangerous for people of the minority or persecuted group to remain living in that country. This is when seeking asylum status in another country is explored and is often necessary.


Despite the complexity of the U.S. immigration system and asylum country conditions, it remains an attractive location for those seeking sanctuary. This is because of the relative strength and security of the nation, the benefits given, and the hope of securing the American Dream.


Attorney Asylum

UNHCR Asylum Seeker Stats


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides statistics on seekers globally, highlighting the widespread need for protection and refuge. If you want to look at the U.S. figures, you can use their database finder, but we’ve given a summary below to show insight into refugee influx into America:


Year No. of Refugees No. of Asylum Seekers
2018 313,242 718,992
2019 341,715 847,068
2020 340,846 997,996
2021 339,179 1,303,181
2022 363,059 1,798,792
2023 389,335 2,195,300


As you can see, the number of refugees remains relatively constant however, since 2018, the number of asylum seekers has increased exponentially, with major surges between 2021-2023. We can take this one step further and look at the number of applications since 2018:


Year No. of Asylum Applicants
2018 260,691
2019 315,897
2020 238,320
2021 211,154
2022 752,693
2023 546,954


From this, we can see a huge surge from 2021 to 2022 onwards. This shows you the scope of the process in the U.S. and why there are often delays in application processing from the USCIS.

What is the Legal Definition of Asylum? (Immigration and Nationality Act)


The Immigration and Nationality Act outlines the legal framework for asylum in the United States, defining the criteria for eligibility and the procedures involved in the process. The UNHCR defines it as:


“A form of protection which allows an individual to remain in the United States instead of being removed (deported) to a country where he or she fears persecution or harm.”


Examples of Real-World Asylum and the Plight Refugees Face


Real-world examples, such as conflicts in Gaza, mass genocide in Rwanda, and the Syrian civil war, illustrate the dire circumstances that drive individuals to seek asylum.

Israeli/Palestinian War on Gaza


The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has forced many Gazans to flee their homes in search of safety abroad. The difficulty here is distinguishing between Gazan civilians and the Hamas militants, which has resulted in much of the Gaza Strip being routed by military action.


Palestine citizens have been trying to relocate within the strip but also fleeing to neighboring countries like Egypt and seeking sanctuary abroad.

Mass Genocide in Rwanda


The Rwandan genocide in 1994 resulted in the mass displacement of millions of people, with many seeking refuge in neighboring countries and beyond. The aftermath of the genocide also resulted in a refugee crisis throughout Africa. Today, there are many people still displaced from Rwanda and living as asylum seekers in other countries.

Syrian Civil War


The Syrian civil war, ongoing since 2011, has created one of the largest refugee crises of our time, with millions of Syrians seeking sanctuary in various parts of the world. This has caused a mass refugee crisis throughout Europe, but many refugees attempt to travel to South America and through the southern border of the U.S. to seek sanctuary.

Understanding the Challenges in Fitting Cases with Asylum Eligibility


Navigating the asylum process poses numerous challenges, including proving eligibility and providing sufficient evidence of persecution.


As you can see from the above, there is also an immense challenge in discerning who has a viable case and dealing with those who are trying to seek it unlawfully. This places additional strain on organizations like the USCIS and is why the application process is so stringent.

Asylum Interview

The Journey: Can You Just “Show Up” as an Asylum Seeker?


Contrary to popular belief, seeking asylum is not as simple as showing up at a border and declaring refugee status. Indeed, many people try to do this, particularly at the southern borders of the U.S. with Mexico. All this does is exacerbate the process and place additional strain on the USCIS and border control departments.

What Happens at U.S. Ports of Entry for Asylum Seekers?


People arriving at U.S. ports of entry undergo initial screenings to determine their eligibility for asylum. One of several outcomes can occur depending on your status, eligibility, and intentions:


  1. You have a Visa or are eligible for asylum: Granted entry and can proceed with your application.
  2. You have no Visa and are not eligible: Placed in expedited removal proceedings.


In certain circumstances, you may be allowed to simply return across the border without any immigration penalty. If you are placed in removal proceedings, an asylum attorney can help you file for defensive asylum and appeal to an immigration judge.

Southern Border Challenges Make The Asylum Process More Difficult


Challenges at the southern border, including overcrowded detention facilities and changing immigration policies, add complexity to the process.


The southern border with Mexico has long been an area of contention for U.S. immigration as many people attempt to cross the border illegally. In recent years there has also been a surge in migrant crossing. For example, it was estimated that 250,000+ people tried to cross the border in December 2023, which is the highest recorded figure.

What are the Types of Asylum in the U.S.?


There are two main types of refuge in the U.S. it’s important to understand the difference when looking at how to seek asylum in the U.S.

Affirmative Asylum


Affirmative asylum is sought by individuals who are not in removal proceedings and apply directly to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for asylum. 


This is the most common type of application and it is the preferable one. It means you are in less danger of deportation and can start your journey for sanctuary in the best way possible. An attorney asylum specialist can guide you through this process.

Defensive Asylum


Defensive asylum is sought by individuals who are in removal proceedings and request it as a defense against deportation. For example, perhaps you’ve entered the U.S. at a port of entry but don’t have a Visa, or it isn’t immediately clear that you are eligible.


You may then be placed in deportation proceedings but can then use it as a means of protection. Your asylum attorney can assist with this, but it’s also important to read the I-589 defensive asylum instructions.



Who is Eligible to Apply for Asylum in the U.S.?


Understanding if you are eligible is the first step towards a successful process. Make sure you are aware of new rules for asylum seekers in USA 2023 and beyond and that you also understand the benefits of potential legal assistance.

Current Eligibility Criteria for Asylum Seekers


Eligibility in the United States is determined based on the applicant’s fear of persecution in their home country. You must be able to demonstrate this under one of the following grounds:


  • Race
  • Religion
  • Political Opinion
  • Membership in a Particular Social Group
  • Nationality


You must also be physically present in the U.S. and file Form I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal within 1 year of arriving in the country.

Why Legal Representation is Important Throughout the Process


Legal representation is crucial for seekers to navigate the complex legal requirements and present a compelling case. 

Can You Obtain Work Authorization During the Asylum Application Process?


Refuge seekers in the United States can apply for work authorization while their application is pending, allowing them to support themselves financially.


This is done by applying for an EAD – Employment Authorization Document. This cannot be done until 150 days after submitting your asylum application.

Understanding the Asylum Interview Process


The asylum interview is a critical step in the process, where applicants present their case and provide evidence of persecution.

What Happens During the Interview?


During the asylum interview, you are questioned about your experiences and reasons for seeking refuge. The USCIS officer is effectively trying to find out if your application is credible and if you have a proper case for sanctuary. Expect the interview to last at least 30 minutes, but it could take longer depending on your evidence and Form I-589.

What Happens After the Interview?


After the interview, USCIS officers review the evidence presented and decide on the application. A USCIS officer may also request additional information. It’s important to comply with any requests as quickly as possible to ensure the process runs smoothly.


What Benefits Do You Gain After the USCIS Grants Asylum?


Upon approval of asylum, individuals gain access to various privileges and benefits in the United States.

Privileges and Benefits You Gain


Asylees are granted permission to live and work in the United States, access to social services, and the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency (LPR) and eventual citizenship.

Next Steps You Can Take (LPR and Naturalization)


Asylees can pursue lawful permanent residency (LPR) and eventual citizenship through the naturalization process, providing a path to long-term stability and integration in the United States. Naturzalition can only be achieved once you have been a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for at least 5 years.

U.S. Asylum is a Complex Process But You Can Navigate it Successfully


Navigating the U.S. asylum process can be daunting, but with the right information and support, you can successfully seek refuge and build a new life in the United States. 


We hope this article has given you renewed hope and explained some of the important aspects, such as asylum hearings, eligibility, and common challenges. 


If you want additional advice or wish to start your U.S. immigration journey, please don’t hesitate to contact Santoshkhourny – we are dedicated to helping those in need and use our expertise to give you a fair chance at securing your American Dream.


What is the difference between asylum and refugee status?


Asylum is granted to individuals already present in the United States or at a port of entry, while refugee status is granted to individuals outside the United States seeking admission. Refugee status is determined by a government or organization like the U.N. Refugee Agency beforehand whereas asylum is something you have to be granted when in the country.

How long does the asylum process typically take?


The process timeline varies, but it can take several months to years to receive a decision on an application. A political asylum lawyer can help make sure your application runs as smoothly and as quickly as possible to expedite the process and speed things up.

Can asylum seekers work in the United States while their application is pending?


Yes, asylum seekers in the United States can apply for work authorization while their application is pending. You can file Form I-765 to obtain an EAD (Employment Authorization Document), but this can only be done a year after submitting your application.

What happens if an asylum application is denied?


If an application is denied, the applicant may appeal the decision or face deportation if they are in removal proceedings. An asylum lawyer can help with the appeals process and make sure that you get fair treatment and are not deported without going through the proper appeals system and immigration courts.

Can family members be included in an asylum application?


Yes, eligible family members can be included in an application as derivatives. This includes your spouse and children.

What happens if an individual’s asylum status is terminated?


If an individual’s status is terminated, they may be subject to deportation or removal from the United States. This is why it’s important to adhere to the terms of your status and make sure that you give no reason for deportation, such as leaving the U.S. for prolonged periods or returning to your home country.

Is there a limit on the number of people granted asylum each year?


There is no set limit on the number of people granted sanctuary each year, but the number of asylum approvals is subject to various factors and circumstances. From 2018 onwards there has been a surge in applications and this has created backlogs with the USCIS which have ultimately slowed down the process.


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