Frequently Asked Questions about Political Asylum

October 30, 2015

By Caitlin Steinke, Law Firm of Tina Foster

What is persecution?

Persecution is harm or threat of harm directed at an individual on account of that individual’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Persecution can be carried out by the government, or by entities or individuals that the government is unable or unwilling to control.

Who is eligible for asylum?

You are eligible for asylum if you are in the United States and have already faced persecution in your home country. You are also eligible for asylum if you are in the United States and have a well-founded fear of persecution if you were to return to your home country. Eligibility for asylum does not depend on how you entered the United States, or your current immigration status.

When must I apply for asylum?

Asylum seekers are required to apply for asylum within one year of entering the United States. However, the asylum seeker can still be considered for asylum if he or she can prove (1) changed circumstances or (2) extraordinary circumstances that relate to the delay in applying for asylum.

Who will hear my asylum claim?

If you are filing an affirmative application for asylum, meaning you are not currently in removal proceedings, your asylum claim will be heard by an asylum officer at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The asylum officer will interview you about your asylum claim and ask questions that are necessary to determining whether you should be granted asylum. A couple weeks after the interview, the asylum office will either recommend you for a grant of asylum or refer your claim to an immigration judge.

If your claim is referred to an immigration judge, you will have another opportunity to present your asylum case in court. The immigration judge has the discretion to grant or deny your asylum claim. If your asylum claim is still not granted, you can appeal the immigration judge’s decision and ask another judge to hear your case.

If you are currently in removal proceedings, you can apply for asylum by filing an asylum claim as a defense to your removal from the United States. Your case will be heard by an immigration judge, in the same manner as described above.

How long will I have to wait for my asylum interview?

There are only eight asylum offices in the United States, and they are all experiencing a backlog with scheduling asylum interviews. You should expect to wait about two years (if not more) for your interview to be scheduled. You can check the USCIS Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin for current average wait times at your asylum office.

What are the other benefits of being granted asylum?

  • You are immediately authorized to work in the United States.
  • You may be eligible to receive assistance from an organization in your area funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Such organizations can help with financial and medical assistance, employment preparation and job placement, and English language training for asylees.

  •  One year after you are granted asylum, you can apply for permanent residence (a green card). After being a permanent resident for five years, you can apply for US citizenship. One year of your time in asylee status counts as permanent residence.