Refugees vs Asylees

Whether you want to get into the US and stay in Austin TX, or any other state, it's important to understand your options and the avenues you should consider.

Who is a Refugee?

According to the DHS, refugees are persons who are currently outside their country of nationality and are unwilling/unable to return to their country of nationality due to persecution or imminent fear of persecution because of political reasons, race, religion, membership in certain social groups and other factors like nationality.

Who is an Asylee?

Asylees are persons who are already refugees or met the formal DHS definition of refugees. What's more, they are actively seeking admission at ports of entry. Refugees in the US are required to seek permanent residence (apply for a green card a year after being entering the US. Asylees can also apply a year after securing asylum. So, what's the difference?

Refugee vs. Asylee in the US

The difference between the two is mostly procedural. Both refugees and asylees must prove similar things before obtaining their status. Refugees and asylees must show their eligibility for protection under American law. The difference in procedure is discussed below.

How to Become a Refugee vs. How to Become an Asylee

Individuals seeking refugee status usually go through the UNHCR or USRP. If you are in another country and face persecution, have faced persecution, fear persecution, or have another well-founded fear, you can apply for a refugee status that allows you to get into the US.

The process involves filling an application form, submitting certain documents, and meeting certain criteria. The USCIS makes the final decision on applications within the timelines set by the US president.

Becoming a Refugee in the US

Contact a USRP or UNHCR office near you: You can approach representatives of UNHCR or USRP in your current country. The offices or representatives do basic initial screening, give applicants refugee designation, and link them up with a suitable USCIS office to do further processing. This office will give you the requirements for securing asylum status in the US.

Important: USCIS offices aren't US embassies or consulates, although you can get help from a nearby consulate or embassy on the most suitable USCIS office to go to.

Filling-in Form I-590: Form I-590 is the main application form for refugees. There may be other forms needed, such as the biographic information form (Form G-325C) and fingerprints form (Form FD-258).

Finding financial support: Refugees in the US need financial support assurance for paying travel and initial living expenses once they arrive in the US. The support can come from family members based in America, charitable groups, or affiliation with human rights organizations or religious groups. Whoever your sponsor is, they need to file Form I-34.

Collecting evidence: Refugees also need to provide evidence of their identity. While refugees can flee their country of origin quickly and leave their passport behind, there are other identity cards that the USCIS recognizes, like student ID and driver's license.

Proof of past or imminent persecution is also needed. A sworn statement is ideal, as well as affidavits from relatives, friends, medical professionals, among other individuals with official positions. Membership cards/documents from groups should also be provided.

Some evidence can be personalized, while other evidence can simply highlight human rights conditions in your country as a way of making a point. For instance, a newspaper article or report by recognized human rights bodies like Amnesty International can act as evidence of violation of human rights in your home country.

Refugee status for families: Family members such as children under 21 can have their refugee application submitted alongside applications by a parent seeking refugee status. In such a case, documents acting as evidence of family relationships should be submitted.

USCIS interview: The last step to becoming a refugee is attending an interview. The USCIS requires applicants to go for medical exams before sitting for an interview. This step is meant for verifying identity among other key information, such as your need to become a refugee.

Becoming an Asylee in America

While the condition for persecution must be present for asylees and refugees, asylee's grounds for persecution must fall with five main grounds namely: persecution because of race, nationality, religion, membership in a social group, and political opinion. Any persecution outside these five main grounds can result in disqualification.

Asylum seekers also apply with a different form (Form I-589). You'll also need to submit proof of identity, persecution evidence, and persecution risks of returning to your home country. You may need additional convincing documentation highlighting the importance of collecting as many documents as possible.

Asylum seekers must also give a testimony that determines a significant part of whether they will be granted or denied asylum. The importance of seeking legal assistance from an immigration attorney can't be overlooked.

Differences in Rights of Refugees vs Asylees in the US

Besides differences in procedural applications, the refugee vs. asylee differences in the US can also be explored in the rights of both groups.

Refugees can remain in America indefinitely (until conditions improve/return to normal in their home country). Refugees get work permits in America and different forms of support from the government a few months after entering the US. After staying for a year, they become eligible for permanent resident status (green card). Four years after securing a green card, they become eligible for American citizenship.

Asylees also stay in America indefinitely. However, they can secure work permits immediately after their applications for asylum status are approved. In fact, some asylum seekers can start working while their applications are still being processed.

Summary: What is the Difference Between Refugees and Asylees?

While the similarities between refugees and asylees are more, there are inherent procedural differences. For instance, you need to apply for refugee status using Form I-590 and Form I-589 for applying for asylum. There are also differences in the right to work. Asylum seekers can secure work permits and start working faster than refugees.

All in all, immigration attorneys are the best-placed legal professionals for highlighting the most significant differences between refugees and asylees and which status you qualify for or should pursue.

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