How to Apply for Asylum in the US

How to Apply for Asylum in the US

Are you interested in the US asylum application process? Are you or someone you know seeking asylum in the United States or do you just want to be informed on the matter? This article will answer your questions.

People looking for asylum in the US need protection. They’re running from persecution or fearing discrimination in their home country. 

The entire application process has specific requirements that can be difficult to comprehend and prepare for without a good refugee and asylum lawyer in NYC, one of the busiest cities in the US, or closer to where you live in the US. 

Keep reading to find out how to apply for asylum status, who can do it, and what alternatives are in play. 

What is asylum?

Asylum allows people to stay in the US if they fear discrimination or have been persecuted in their home country. Reasons vary from race and religion to nationality, political opinions, or membership in certain social groups.

Persecution means forms of serious abuse that affect a person’s freedom and life. Here are some examples:

  • Severe physical harm
  • Unlawful detention
  • Forced psychological/medical treatment
  • Strong economic harm
  • Robbery
  • Extortion
  • Severe discrimination and harassment. 

People can request asylum at the US border or from within the US. Citizens granted asylum can stay in the US legally. They also receive protection from deportation and detention, starting a new life. They can ask for asylum for their family, including spouses and children, and they auto-qualify for work permits in the US territories. 

Asylum seekers can apply for documents (social security, travel documents, citizenship, and green card). They can also apply for resettlement services which include medical and financial assistance. 

It’s much easier to contact an immigration attorney willing to guide you through the entire process. It can be stressful and challenging for applicants because the US immigration system is demanding. An experienced lawyer can make the difference between remaining in the US and being deported. 

Types of asylum

There are three ways to receive asylum in the US. If you are given asylum you fall under special legal protections that shield you from returning to the country where you faced persecution. When seeking asylum, you must prove your case to the government. That means fulfilling an application process requirement. 

The three ways to receive asylum status in the US are as follows:

  • Affirmative asylum – reserved for people seeking protection in the US from persecution in other countries. An officer from the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) reviews the file and decides the case. 
  • Asylum merit interviews – reserved for people who benefit from expedited removal procedures. They have a positive determination in their credible fear screening. A USCIS officer decides on the case. 
  • Defensive asylum – reserved for people in active deportation or removal actions. The proceedings happen before a judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review. The judge decides the outcome of the case. 

Defensive asylum cases happen when:

  • Affirmative asylum was not approved
  • CBP (Customs and Border Protection) claims a person entering the US didn’t have proper documents
  • ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arrested a person in the US for lacking legal status. 

Who is eligible for asylum in the US? – Requirements

Only certain people can apply for asylum. Their chances are better if they follow these requirements:

  • They are physically in the US
  • They fear persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion/group
  • Their arrival in the US hasn’t surpassed a year
  • They have not resettled in another country already
  • They have not passed through a safe third country (for example, Canada)
  • They’re not a threat to US safety 
  • They haven’t committed certain crimes. 

In short, people can request asylum within one year of setting foot in the US. They don’t have to pay fees to apply. The subsequent steps are different depending on the type of asylum requested. 

In special cases, asylum seekers can apply after they’ve lived in the US for a year. The requirements are much stricter, though:

  • When there have been changes in the conditions of their country of origin
  • When activities they’re involved in increase their risk of persecution 
  • If they were previously dependent on someone else’s pending asylum application
  • When a disability interfered with their ability to apply in the preferred time
  • If their legal counsel advised them wrongly
  • If they have a legal disability (mental impairment, unaccompanied child). 

Although it may seem simple, the asylum process proves complicated. Always review your legal help options before embarking on this journey. An immigration attorney or representative can help you prepare for your interview, which increases your chances of being approved for asylum. 

How to apply for asylum

There are some simple steps to follow when applying for asylum. You must gather all the required documents and submit them. An asylum officer reviews your case and sends you a receipt notice. 

Then, you receive a fingerprinting appointment notice. You must go to your local Application Support Center to complete it. You also receive a notice for an interview at the closest USCIS office. If you don’t speak English, bring an interpreter with you. 

While waiting for the decision, you should avoid traveling outside the US. Additionally, you can apply for a work permit if you’re waiting for a decision after more than a year. 

What documents are needed to apply for asylum?

When applying for asylum in the US, you need certain documents. They include documents showing your identity and nationality and a photo.

Additionally, you’ll have to provide a written declaration and any evidence to support your testimony. The evidence includes medical reports, academic records, police reports, and background country conditions. 

If your documents are not in English, you must find a certified translator to help you out. For the asylum process, you must also fill and submit Form I-589.

The law says that asylum cases must be decided within 180 days from the date of receiving the application. 

You can appeal your decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals. You must fill and submit Form EOIR-26 within 30 days from de date of your decision. 

Alternatives to asylum in the US

Those who want to stay in the US but are not eligible for asylum can try other routes: withholding of removal and relief under the UN Convention against Torture. 

  • Withholding of removal requires the same form as asylum. If you are approved, you are given the right to stay and legally work in the US. You can’t apply for legal permanent residence or leave the country, though, because you can be denied re-entry. 
  • Seeking relief under the United Nations Convention against Torture is another option. It’s extremely difficult to obtain, and advisable only to those who have committed serious crimes while living in the US. Unlike asylum and withholding, you don’t need to show proof of fear under persecution. 


It’s not easy to apply for asylum in the US. It all begins with some forms, but you must put together a compelling narrative of what happened to you in your country of origin. You must also be ready to respond to any question the asylum officer or immigration judge has for you. 

An immigration attorney can help you with the paperwork and the interview, so reach out to a nonprofit organization willing to help in your area. It’s important to afford your lawyer, especially since pursuing an asylum application can take years, and in the meantime, you don’t have a right to work in the US.

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.