Who Can Apply For Asylum In The United States?

By Published On: June 15, 2023Categories: Vlog, Asylum

Spanish Video Above Translated In English Below

In 2019, the United States granted asylum to over 46,500 individuals, a significant figure. However, a staggering 70 million people are searching for refuge globally. The sheer magnitude of this challenge raises a compelling question: Who is eligible to attain asylum within the United States? 

Amid the influx of information circulating on social media, there’s often confusion. This leads many to believe that seeking this status is a universal option for various personal predicaments, such as extortion or marital issues. Regrettably, awareness about the intricate process might be lacking among many.

Here, you can learn about the concept of asylum, its eligibility criteria, and how an immigration attorney helps in the process. You will also understand who can truly benefit from this protective provision.

Navigating Immigration Law And Eligibility For Asylum In The United States

What Is Asylum?

You can seek asylum in the United States if you’ve faced persecution in your home country and fear returning. It serves as a shield, allowing individuals to stay within the United States rather than facing deportation.

Eligibility depends on proving that you face persecution due to protected characteristics. These factors include race, religion, political views, nationality, or being part of a particular social group. To qualify, you must demonstrate the persecution you’ve endured and your well-founded fear of future harm. 

The application process entails presenting evidence substantiating your persecution due to these factors. This proof could include personal accounts, witness testimonies, official reports, or other corroborating documentation.

Types Of Asylum

When seeking refuge and protection in a new land, individuals often turn to the asylum process to escape persecution and establish a secure life. You need to understand the two primary pathways: affirmative and defensive. 

Defensive Asylum

A journey into the defensive asylum begins for those intercepted at the border or crossing without a visa. This entails undergoing deportation proceedings overseen by an immigration judge. The process involves attending hearings, furnishing evidence, and delivering testimonies.

The main divergence in processes stems from your immigration history and mode of entry. For those entangled in deportation court proceedings, it’s about navigating hearings and presenting your case before a judge.

Affirmative Asylum

On the other hand, if you entered the United States with a visa but now seek refuge due to compelling reasons, an alternative avenue opens up. In an affirmative asylum, you won’t appear in court. Instead, you can submit your asylum application via mail. Subsequently, you’ll await an interview with an asylum officer, not in a court setting.

The asylum process is distinct and tailored to your immigration background and circumstances. Knowing which path aligns with your situation is crucial to pursuing your asylum claim effectively.

Duration Of The Process

The duration of the asylum process in the United States can be extensive and depends on the agency’s timetable. The timeline varies widely, making it hard to predict.

In affirmative asylum, some cases move swiftly, particularly for individuals from certain countries. These fortunate few may secure their asylum interviews within six weeks. However, the norm leans towards waiting periods stretching across months and, in some instances, even years.

The uncertainty of the wait is a challenge, but there is a silver lining. While your case is pending with the agency, you can obtain a work permit around five months after filing your asylum application. This provides a semblance of stability amid the wait.

When it comes to cases within the court system, the timeline can be notably backlogged, depending on the availability of judges. For those in detention, the process can span several months. Meanwhile, for those not in custody, it can extend to years. 

Instances abound of cases initiated in 2012 that are still underway. The prospect of a process that endures beyond a decade underscores the significance of being eligible for a work permit while awaiting resolution.

The timeline for asylum proceedings is unpredictable. While some cases progress quickly, many face protracted waits. Regardless of the timeline, being granted a work permit offers a semblance of stability and empowerment during the potentially extended period of anticipation.

Advantage Of Attaining This Status

Asylum offers substantial protection within the United States. As an individual awaits the final interview or hearing, their work permit can serve as protection. Once their case gains approval, they attain asylum status, a safeguard that extends throughout their lifetime. They can renew their status annually, maintaining their protective shield.

Notably, the advantages don’t end there. After a year of asylum status, the person becomes eligible for permanent residency. This is a significant step towards integration into the country. From there, the pathway to citizenship is unveiled, requiring a four-year wait following the acquisition of permanent residency.

Moving from asylum to citizenship is a possible path for complete integration into American society. However, it’s worth noting that there are instances where individuals have held this status for extended periods without pursuing further steps.

Asylum in the United States offers more than immediate refuge; it paves the way for long-term protection. This opportunity also opens up chances for permanent residency and, eventually, the chance to become a citizen. This comprehensive framework underscores the significance of asylum as a gateway to a secure and established life within the country. 

There are some instances where an individual’s home country’s condition improves while seeking asylum in the United States. In such circumstances, what happens to the pending case?

What Happens When Your Country’s Situation Improves?

You may have started your asylum process seeking safety in the United States due to dire circumstances in your home country. However, positive changes begin to unfold in your country of origin as time goes on. Is your status at risk?

In such a scenario, your case could encounter challenges. If you’re in the process and conditions significantly improve, proving ongoing risk becomes tougher.

If you’ve already been granted asylum and conditions in your home country evolve, the agency can revoke your asylum status. This is why permanent residency is worth applying, as this status offers more enduring protection. Once you secure permanent residency or citizenship, immigration authorities can’t rescind your status.

Naturally, the impact hinges on the stage you’ve reached within the process. Your position within this journey plays a pivotal role in determining how changes in your country’s conditions might affect your asylum case. 

Applying For Asylum Amidst Detention History

If you find yourself detained by an immigration officer within the United States, you can still apply for asylum. According to the law, there’s a crucial stipulation. Everyone must apply for it within a year of entering the United States.

It’s worth noting that some apprehended individuals several years after their entry, around five or six years, can encounter greater challenges. This is especially true if they hadn’t applied for asylum within the one-year timeframe. If you fear returning to your home country, submit your asylum application before that critical time limit expires.

Yet, even if five or six years have passed since your entry, there’s still a window to apply. However, it’s undeniably more complex. In this scenario, you must present compelling reasons for the prolonged delay to the judge. Potential justifications could include shifts in your life, evolving political views, or transformations within your home country’s conditions.

While applying for asylum is possible after several years, initiating the process soon after your U.S. entry tends to yield more favorable results. Remember, the sooner you act, the stronger your asylum case becomes.

Immigration Attorney Share Insights On The Asylum Process

Visiting Your Home Country While In The Process

The question of when you can visit your home country after applying for asylum is a common concern. The recommended course is to hold off on returning until you’ve secured permanent residency, at the very least. Ideally, waiting until you attain citizenship is even wiser. 

There are things to consider if you plan to visit. If you travel to your home country while holding only asylum status, there’s a risk that immigration authorities could potentially revoke that status. This vulnerability surfaces when you’re in the process of applying for permanent residency or citizenship.

During the permanent residency or citizenship application process, you must disclose all your past trips outside the United States. This includes visits to your home country. Immigration officers meticulously review these travel records as part of your interview. 

Given this meticulous scrutiny, it’s recommended to refrain from leaving the United States until you’ve achieved citizenship. This cautious approach offers the utmost assurance against jeopardizing your asylum status or future immigration prospects.


The process of seeking asylum within the United States is a multi-faceted journey with significant implications for individuals seeking refuge. Asylum offers a vital shield against persecution, and its various stages create a comprehensive framework for integration and security.

Understanding the distinction between affirmative and defensive asylum processes and recognizing the eligibility criteria is crucial. If you find yourself in need of asylum, it’s essential to engage with the process promptly. Seek guidance from attorneys who can navigate the intricate landscape of immigration law.

If you have additional questions about your immigration case, or your specific case, you may contact us at (855) 502-0555. After a brief 10-minute evaluation of your case over the phone, we will let you know what options you have. You can also follow us on our social networks so you don’t miss our weekly broadcasts on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.

About the Author: Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch

I am the managing partner of Lincoln-Goldfinch Law. Upon graduating from the University of Texas for college and law school, I received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship in 2008, completed at American Gateways. My project served the detained families seeking asylum. After my fellowship, I entered private immigration practice. My firm offers family-based immigration, such as green cards and naturalization, deportation defense, and humanitarian cases such as asylum, U Visa, and VAWA. Everyone at Lincoln-Goldfinch Law is bilingual, has a connection to our cause, and has demonstrated a history of activism for immigrants. To us, our work is not just a job.

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