How to apply for asylum in the U.S.
In the fiscal year of 2023, the U.S. accepted over 60,000 refugees seeking asylum. This figure continues to rise and it gives hope to those fleeing from persecution. If you are one such person in search of safety and refuge, you must understand how to apply for asylum in the U.S. To get you started, we provide a 6-step process below, together with additional advice to start your U.S. asylum application.
Step 1 – Establishing Your Asylum Case
Before taking any action, you must assess your eligibility for asylum, as there is no point wasting money traveling to the U.S. if you can’t apply. To be eligible for asylum, you must be able to demonstrate that you face persecution or the threat of persecution due to one of these factors:
- Membership in a particular social group
- Political opinion
A consultation with a professional asylum lawyer can help ascertain if you have a case or not and the grounds you would make your claim. This could be a virtual consultation if you have not yet traveled to the U.S., or a physical meeting for those already in the country.
Step 2 – Traveling to the U.S.
Important – You can only file an asylum application if you are physically present in the U.S.
This must be in U.S. territory or an official port of entry, such as an airport or a land border. If you try and enter the U.S. without documentation or preparation for your asylum application, you could be moved to the expedited removal process and potentially deported without seeing a judge.
Similarly, if you try and enter the U.S. illegally, you can be detained and deported. However, you may also be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office for criminal charges and given a chance to plead your case, including showing a credible fear of returning to your country.
Step 3 – Filing Your Application with the USCIS
Once in the U.S., you must complete the I-589 form which is the Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. It is currently free to obtain and you have to complete it with as much detail as possible.
The information required includes your details, residency address in the U.S., current nationality, spouse and children details, and an explanation of your case for asylum. Aside from completing the I-589 form, you must also provide supporting documents:
- Copy of your passport.
- Any U.S. immigration documents you have.
- Copy of any other ID documents, such as a birth certificate.
These are required, but you can also submit supporting documents such as a personal statement, declarations from friends, family, and professionals, country-condition reports, and other material that confirms the persecution you faced.
A political asylum lawyer can help you complete the form and build a strong case with multiple pieces of evidence to give you a better chance of a successful application.
Step 4 – Biometrics Appointment
Part of the asylum application process involves attending a biometrics appointment – this is mandatory in the process of how to apply for asylum and is performed by the USCIS department. During this appointment, they collect the following:
This is to prove your ID and to make sure that no one is trying to enter the U.S. with a false identity. The information can also be used when creating documentation such as your green card. If you have applied for asylum using form I-589, a biometrics appointment is automatically scheduled – do not miss this appointment!
Step 5 – Asylum Interview
After completion of form I-589, you must attend an asylum interview. This is where you present your case, show your evidence of persecution, and answer any questions the USCIS officer asks. Please take this interview seriously – in most instances, this is where your asylum case is decided, so you have to make an impression and make your argument convincing.
If your English is limited, you can have an interpreter attend the interview, and your asylum attorney can also attend as your representative. This is highly advised as the asylum lawyer can coach you beforehand, explain how the interview works, and what to expect.
Step 6 – Waiting for the USCIS Decision
After the interview, you have to wait for the decision to be made. Currently, from the point of filing your I-589 form, a decision is made in 180 days on average but it could be quicker or slower than this depending on your case, how your interview progressed, and the evidence you gave.
The great news is, is that you can apply to work even while your asylum application is under review. This is done by submitting form I-765. This can only be done 150 calendar days after you file your asylum application.
What Happens if My Application is Denied?
Not every initial asylum application is accepted, but this doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are avenues to get your case reviewed and make appeals, including:
- Removal process with the BIA.
- Apply for defensive asylum.
Initially, you go through a removal process with the Board of Immigration Appeals. During this hearing, you can appeal to the judge and provide additional evidence to try and get the decision reversed. Alternatively, you can apply for defensive asylum where you will complete the I-589 form but using the Withholding of Removal sections.
What Benefits and Work Authorization Do I Get?
After a successful asylum application, you may be eligible for a range of benefits to help get you started, including:
- TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
- SSI (Supplemental Security Income).
- Health insurance with Medicaid.
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
These benefits can help you get established in the U.S. and start your new life. Additional benefits can include help with medical assistance, job placements, employment preparation, and English language training.
Benefits for asylum seekers are organized by the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) in your area, and you should contact them to see what you are eligible for.
How to Apply for Asylum Summary
We hope you have found this guide on how to apply for asylum in the U.S. beneficial. You should now have a firm grasp of the basics, including eligibility, how to apply for asylum, and what to expect during the process.
For clarity on any of these issues, and assistance during your asylum application, make sure that you book a consultation with an asylum lawyer, as they can make the difference between acceptance and denial for your asylum case.