Questions and Answers: Asylum Eligibility and Applications

Who Is Eligible to Apply for Asylum?

You may apply for asylum if you are at a port of entry or in the United States. You may apply for asylum regardless of your immigration status and within one year of your arrival to the United States.

You will not be eligible to apply for asylum if you:· 

Filed your application after being in the United States for more than one year.  However, you may qualify for an exception if you show

  1. changed circumstances materially affecting your asylum eligibility for asylum or
  2. extraordinary circumstances relating to your delay in filing.
  3. You must still file your application within a reasonable time under the circumstances to be eligible for an exception.

Changed circumstances may include but are not limited to:

  • Changes in conditions in your country of nationality or, if you are stateless, your country of last habitual residence
  • Changes in your circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum, including changes in applicable U.S. law and activities you become involved in outside the country of feared persecution that place you at risk
  • If you were previously included as a dependent in someone else’s pending asylum application, the loss of the spousal or parent-child relationship to the principal applicant through marriage, divorce, death, or attainment of age 21

Extraordinary  circumstances may include but are not limited to:· 

  • Serious illness or mental or physical disability, including any effects of persecution or violent harm suffered in the past, during the 1-year period after your arrival in the U.S.
  • Legal disability, such as your status as an unaccompanied minor or you suffered from a mental impairment, during the 1-year period after your arrival in the U.S.

Ineffective assistance of counsel, if:

  • You file an affidavit explaining in detail the agreement that you had with your lawyer about the actions to be taken by your lawyer on your behalf and what your lawyer told you he or she would do for you
  • You have informed the lawyer whom you are criticizing of the accusations against him or her and the lawyer has been given an opportunity to respond
  • You indicate whether you have filed a complaint with appropriate disciplinary authorities about any violation of your lawyer’s ethical or legal responsibilities, and if not, why not
  • You had Temporary Protected Status (TPS), lawful immigrant or nonimmigrant status, or you were given parole, until a reasonable period before you filed your asylum application
  • You filed an asylum application before the expiration of the 1-year deadline, but USCIS rejected your application as not properly filed, returned the application to you for corrections, and you re-filed your application within a reasonable time after the return
  • The death or serious illness or incapacity of your legal representative or a member of your immediate family

For a list of circumstances that may be considered changed or extraordinary circumstances, see 8 CFR 208.4 and the “Asylum Bars” link to the right.

You will be barred from applying for asylum if you previously applied for asylum and were denied by the Immigration Judge or Board of Immigration Appeals, unless you demonstrate that there are changed circumstances which affect your eligibility for asylum.

You will also be barred if you could be removed to a safe third country to a two-party or multi-party agreement. Currently, the United States has a safe third country agreement with Canada that does not apply to you if you are applying for asylum affirmatively with USCIS. The Agreement only applies in Credible Fear Screenings.  For more information about the safe third country agreement with Canada, see the “Questions & Answers: Credible Fear Screenings” link to the right. For more information about bars to applying, see “Asylum Bars” to the right.

How Do I Apply for Asylum?

To apply for asylum, you must complete a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.  For more information about applying for asylum, see the “Obtaining Asylum in the U.S.” and “The Affirmative Asylum Process” links to the right.

Can I Still Apply for Asylum Even if I Am in the United States Illegally?

Yes. You may apply for asylum with USCIS regardless of your immigration status if:

  • You are not currently in removal proceedings
  • You file an asylum application within one year of arriving to the United States or demonstrate that you are within an exception to that rule.

Can I Apply for Asylum Even if I Was Convicted of a Crime?

Yes, but you may be barred from being granted asylum depending on the crime. You must disclose any criminal history on your Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, and at your asylum interview. If you do not disclose such information, your asylum claim will be referred to the immigration court and may result in fines or imprisonment for committing perjury. For more information on bars to receiving asylum, see the “Asylum Bars” link to the right.

How Can I obtain Asylum Benefits for My Spouse and Children?

You must list your spouse and children on your Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, regardless of whether they are:

  • Alive, missing or dead
  • Born in other countries or in the United States
  • Under 21 years old or adults
  • Married or unmarried
  • Living with you in the United States or elsewhere
  • Stepsons or stepdaughters or legally adopted;
  • Born when you were not married
  • Included in your asylum application or filing a separate application

You may include your spouse as a dependent on your asylum application. You may also include your children if they are:

  • Under the age of 21
  • Unmarried
  • In the United States

You should bring your family members to your asylum interview. If you are granted asylum status, family members included on your application will also be granted asylum status (unless they are barred from asylum) and will be allowed to remain in the United States. If you are referred to the Immigration Court, your family members will also be referred to court for removal proceedings if they are not in legal status.

If you are granted asylum and your spouse and any unmarried children under 21 years old are outside the United States, you may file a Form I-730, Refugee and Asylee Relative Petition, for them to obtain derivative asylum status. For more information about benefits for your dependents, see the “Family of Refugees & Asylees” link to the right.

When Will I Need to Be Fingerprinted?

We will send you a notice to go to a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) to have your fingerprints taken after we receive your asylum application. You are exempt from the fingerprinting fee and do not need to submit a fingerprint card. Your spouse and children will also need to be fingerprinted if they are between 12 years and 9 months of age and 79 years of age.  For ASC locations, see the “ASC Locator” link to the right. 

Will I Be Required to Undergo Any Other Criminal or Security Checks?

Yes. Every individual who applies for asylum will be subject to a series of background and security checks. If you are not eligible for a final grant of asylum, your application may be referred to Immigration Court for removal proceedings. Background and security checks consist of:

  • FBI check on your biographical information and fingerprints
  • Check of your biographical information against law enforcement databases.

What Happens if My Child Turns 21 Years Old After I Have Filed My Asylum Application?

Your child will continue to be eligible as a dependent on your asylum application if they turned 21 after you filed your application and while it remains pending. For more information about derivative asylum, see the “Family of Refugees & Asylees” link to the right.

What Is the Fee to Apply for Asylum?

There is no fee to apply for asylum.

How Does the Asylum Officer Determine if I Am Eligible for Asylum?

The asylum officer will determine if you are eligible for asylum by evaluating whether you meet the definition of a refugee. See section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). We will make the determination of whether you meet the definition of a refugee based on information you provide on your application and during an interview with an asylum officer.

The asylum officer will also consider whether any bars to asylum apply. You will be barred from being granted asylum if you:

  • Ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion
  • Were convicted of a serious crime (including aggravated felonies)
    Committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States
  • Pose a danger to the security of the United States
  • Were firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States

For more information on bars to asylum, see the “Bars to Applying and Receiving Asylum” link to the right.

How Long Does the Asylum Process Take?

A decision should be made on your asylum application within 180 days after the date you filed your application unless there are exceptional circumstances. For more information about the step by step asylum process, see the “Affirmative Asylum Process” link to the right.

Where Can I Find the Law on Asylum?

The legal provisions governing the Asylum Program can be found in Section 208 of the INA.  Rules concerning eligibility requirements and procedures can be found at 8 CFR 208. Asylum officers also rely on case law to adjudicate asylum claims. Administrative decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) can be found in the “BIA Appeals” link to the right.

Can Anyone Help Me With My Asylum Interview?

You have a right to bring a lawyer or representative to your asylum interview and to immigration proceedings before the Immigration Court. See the “Finding Legal Advice” link to the right.

Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may also be able to assist in identifying persons to help you complete your Form I-589. The current address of the UNHCR is:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
1775 K Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
Telephone: (202) 296-5191

For more information about UNHCR, see the “United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” link to the right.

What if I Don’t Speak English?

You must bring an interpreter if you do not speak English fluently. The interpreter must be fluent in both English and a language you speak and must be at least 18 years old. USCIS does not provide any interpreters during the asylum interview.  The following people cannot serve as your interpreter:

  • Your attorney or representative of record
  • A witness testifying on your behalf at the interview
  • A representative or employee of your country

If you have a document that is not in English, you are required to provide a certified translation of the document in English.

Q.  How Can I Find Out the Status of My Asylum Application?
A.  You can find out the status of a pending asylum application by sending a written inquiry or by visiting the asylum office with jurisdiction over your case. Please provide in writing the following information when you write to the asylum office:

  • Your A-Number (the 8 or 9 digit number following the letter "A")
  • Your legal name and, if different, the name as it appears on the application
  • Your date of birth
  • Date and location of your asylum interview, if applicable

You may also inquire at the asylum office where your case is pending. See the “Asylum Office Locator” link to the right.

Q.  What if I Need to Travel After I’ve Applied for Asylum?
A.  If you applied for asylum and have not yet received a decision, you should not leave the United States without first obtaining advance parole. Advance parole allows certain individuals to return to the United States without a visa after traveling abroad. If you leave the United States without first obtaining advance parole, we will presume you abandoned your asylum application. Advance parole does not guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the United States.

To obtain advance parole, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. For more information about travel documents, see the “Fact Sheet: Traveling Outside the United States as an Asylum Applicant, an Asylee, or Lawful Permanent Resident Who Obtained Such Status Based on Asylum Status” links to the right.

Q.  What if I Need to Travel After I’ve Been Granted Asylum?
A.  If you plan to depart the United States after being granted asylum, you must obtain permission to return to the United States before departure by obtaining a refugee travel document. Your spouse and children who were granted asylum must also obtain a refugee travel documents before leaving as well.

A refugee travel document may be used for temporary travel abroad and is required for readmission to the United States as an asylee. If you do not obtain a refugee travel document in advance of departure, you may be unable to re-enter the United States, or you may be placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge.

To obtain a refugee travel document file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

Q.  Is the Information I Provide on My Application Protected?

A.  Yes, asylum-related information may not be shared with third parties without the asylum applicant’s written consent or the Secretary of Homeland Security’s specific authorization.  Q.  If I Am a Minor Can I Still Apply for Asylum?A.  Yes. For more information on minors applying for asylum, see the “Asylum Procedures for Minor Children” link to the right.

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