Refugees and Asylum

Refugee or asylum status may be granted to people who have suffered persecution or who fear persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a certain social group or political opinion.


Refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to persons who meet the definition of refugees and who constitute a special humanitarian concern to the United States. Generally, refugees are people outside their countries who are unable or unwilling to return there because they fear serious personal harm.

You may request referral for refugee status only from outside the United States.


Asylum status is a form of protection available to people who:

  • They meet the definition of a refugee
  • They are already in the United States
  • They request admission at a port of entry
You can apply for asylum in the United States regardless of your country of origin or your current immigration status.

Affirmative Asylum seekers are rarely detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). You may reside in the United States while your application is pending with USCIS. If you are found ineligible, you may remain in the United States while your application is pending before the Immigration Judge. Most asylum seekers are not authorized to work in the United States.

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The two ways to obtain asylum in the United States

Defensive Asylum Process with USCIS

An Asylum Defense application occurs when you request asylum as a defense against your removal from the United States. For asylum processing to be defensive, you must be in removal proceedings in Immigration Court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Usually, people are placed in defensive asylum proceedings in one of two ways:

  • They are referred by USCIS to an Immigration Judge after they are determined ineligible for asylum at the end of the affirmative asylum process.
  • They were placed in removal processes because:
    • They were detained or arrested in the United States or one of its ports of entry without proper legal documentation or in violation of their immigration status.
    • They were arrested by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attempting to enter the United States without proper documentation, placed in expedited removal proceedings, and found by the Asylum Officer to have “credible fear” of being persecuted or tortured.

Immigration Judges hear defensive asylum cases in adversarial proceedings (similar to a court hearing). The judge will hear the arguments of the following parties:

  • The individual (and his or her attorney, if represented).
  • The US government, represented by an ICE lawyer.
The Immigration Judge will then decide if the person is eligible for asylum. If you are eligible, the Immigration Judge will order that asylum be granted. If it is found to be ineligible, it will determine whether the individual is eligible for any other form of assistance to avoid removal. If ineligible for any other form of relief, the Immigration Judge will order the person deported from the United States.

Affirmative Asylum Process with USCIS

In order for you to obtain asylum through the affirmative process you must be present in the United States. You must apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.

You must apply for asylum within one year of your last arrival in the United States, unless you can prove:

  • Circumstances that changed and directly affect your asylum eligibility or extraordinary circumstances related to delays in submitting the application.
  • Under the circumstances, you submitted your application within a reasonable period.
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