Do I Qualify for Asylum in the U.S.?

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedAug 9, 2022
4 minute read

Not everyone comes to the United States to seek a better life. Many come because they’re running for their life. They cross great distances because their homeland is no longer fit to be a home, and the danger they fled has them pressed against the border of a new nation, asking “Do I qualify for asylum in the U.S.?” Not everyone does, but in this article we’ll discuss what it takes to be eligible.

Get the Facts From an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Obtaining asylum in the U.S. is one way to stay here legally and escape persecution from your home country. R&H Partner and Immigration Attorney Jonathan Hyman touches on what asylum is in this short video. Find out if you may qualify for asylum during a immigration case assessment. Call 303-688-0944 to get started.

What is Asylum?

Asylum grants protection to people fleeing persecution. Specifically, it applies to foreign nationals who have fled their home countries due to a well-founded fear of punishment and oppression based on one of five protected grounds:

  • Race
  • Religious beliefs
  • Political opinion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular group

People who qualify for asylum under any of those five grounds are allowed entry to the United States, where they can:

  • Apply for jobs
  • Receive government benefits
  • Receive a social security card
  • Gain permanent residency, or a green card
  • Petition to bring their family members here

The U.S. government recognizes two types of asylum:

Affirmative Asylum

Anyone already in the U.S. may apply for affirmative asylum, so long as they are not already in the process of being deported, and have been in the country for less than a year.

Defensive Asylum

This is for undocumented immigrants already in removal proceedings. Applying for defensive asylum gives them one last shot at having their case heard by an immigration judge so they might avoid deportation. Defensive applications are more common than affirmative ones.

You must be either inside the United States, at the border, or at an American port of entry to qualify for asylum in the U.S.

How Hard Is it to Qualify for Asylum in the U.S.? 

It’s difficult to obtain asylum in the U.S. but not impossible. This is where the words “well-founded fear of persecution” come into play, with the emphasis on well-founded.

Beyond stating that your fears are credible, it is important to demonstrate why, even if the current circumstances in your native land make credibility self-evident. Any documented proof you can provide to back up your claim could boost your petition.

The Application Process for Asylum in the U.S.

Every application for asylum begins by filling out USCIS Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal .  It is 12 pages long and quite thorough. Many asylum seekers hire an immigration attorney to help them with this form and throughout the process.

The government has recommended that if you file Form I-589, you also attach a separate personal statement or affidavit describing, in detail, the types of persecution you experienced in your homeland, or give credible reasons why you fear what might happen to you if you return there.

Your personal statement should tell your entire story, giving context and meaning to any fears or incidents of oppression and persecution you experienced. The more compelling your true story is, the better your chances of obtaining asylum in the U.S.

What Qualifies as Persecution to Qualify for Asylum in the U.S.? 

The U.S. government’s legal definition of persecution is a bit unclear, perhaps intentionally. But common methods of such treatment can include:

  • Physical violence and/or torture, or threats of violence and torture
  • Forced labor and slavery
  • Psychological abuse (describe specific abuse, if you can)
  • Unlawful detention
  • Economic suffering, such as being deprived of food, water or shelter
  • Being forced to terminate a pregnancy or undergo forced sterilization

All of the above are only examples, while there are certainly many other forms of abuse and oppression that can be carried out.

Your Reasons for Seeking Asylum Matter

It’s important to be specific about what you have endured, and it must be due to your race, religious beliefs, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular group or organization.

You cannot apply for asylum in the U.S. to escape persecution from loan sharks over a gambling debt, for example.

Support Your Application with Evidence

Your story could be harrowing, horrifying and true. But without supporting evidence, it might not amount to enough compelling proof that you deserve asylum. Here are common types of evidence to corroborate a petition for asylum:

  • News clippings and other mass media accounts of what’s happened in your country
  • Human rights reports about your country from respected international organizations
  • Doctors’ reports. It’s a good idea to visit both a physical and a mental health doctor in the U.S. to back up claims of abuse or torture
  • Photographs and video
  • Affidavits and written statements of anyone who has witnessed persecution of you or any members of the group you belong to
  • Correspondence and letters
  • Proof of your membership in a particular persecuted group or organization in your country

Be Prepared to Give Testimony

Finally, at some point in your asylum application process, you will be required to meet with U.S. immigration officers for a face-to-face interview.

By the time of your interview date, you should be able to recall every incident described on the personal statement you attached to your original Form I-589. Immigration officials will be paying close attention to see if you have been honest.

Show up on time to your interview. Be honest. Don’t be nervous. Be prepared to tell your entire story yet again. If there are any mistakes or inconsistencies in your paperwork, correct them at the interview. It will be your last chance to do so.

How Long Does it Take to Get Approved or Denied?

Even if you’re confident you have a strong case, there’s just no guarantee that you will ultimately be granted asylum to the U.S. At any rate, you’re not likely to receive a decision anytime soon.

Due to a massive backload of hundreds of thousands of asylum cases, expect to wait at least a few months for a decision, and possibly much longer. The average wait time from the date of filing a petition to getting a decision from the immigration judge is four years. Sometimes, it takes even longer.

While waiting, though, you will be allowed to remain in the U.S. and work.

You Have a Right to Feel Safe and Protected

If you or someone you love has escaped racial, religious or political persecution in your homeland and wonder if obtaining asylum in the United States is an option, go ahead and take the next step. Robinson and Henry’s immigration attorneys can assist you through the process from start to finish. Or, if you have applied for asylum and need to appeal an unsatisfying decision, let us help. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment, o lláme al 720-359-2442 para hablar con alguien en español.

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