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Seeking Asylum in the US? Here’s What You Need to Know

The United States of America has a legal provision which enables asylum seekers to obtain permanent residency in the US. An asylum seeker is anyone who flees their home country due to the fear of persecution. Whenever a person is granted asylum in the US, they will be provided with a social security number and be allowed to work lawfully in the country.


The Refugee Act of 1980 was passed by the US Senate to provide the guidelines for granting asylum to refugees in the country. Under this legislation, a person seeking asylum in the US has to meet the following requirements:

  1. Prove that they face persecution in their home country

    Any refugee seeking asylum in the US has to demonstrate that they are likely to be persecuted in their country of origin in the near future. Persecution in this case may refer to loss of life, torture and unjustified detention or even social discrimination. The applicant is also required to prove that the threat of persecution has been brought about due to their nationality, race, religion, political affiliation or because of their membership to a certain social group. If a person has been victimized once or several times before, they stand a better chance of being granted asylum even if they are unlikely to be victimized again in future. It is usually up to the immigration authorities to determine the severity of each threat, and whether the applicant is justified to apply for asylum.

  2. Show that their government is either unwilling or unable to prevent their persecution
    All asylum seekers will be required to provide evidence showing that their government is not able to provide them with sufficient safety from persecution. There are two possible scenarios that warrant such an application. The first is when the government is actively involved in persecuting the asylum seeker or when the government supports any person or group to persecute such an individual. This is mostly the case for political dissidents who may be targeted for rebelling against the ruling regime in their home countries.

The second scenario is when the government has tried to provide safety to the asylum seeker without success. This can occur due to unfavorable legal structures or when the threat of persecution is too great for government to avert.


There are two avenues through which one can apply for asylum in the United States. Application can either be through the Affirmative Process or the Defensive Process.


The affirmative process is used by refugees who are already inside the United States regardless of whether they got into the country legally or illegally. The applicant has to apply for asylum within one year of getting into the country. Forms for application can be obtained through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website. Once the applicant has submitted the filled forms, they will receive an appointment at the nearest immigration support center where their fingerprints will be taken. After this, the applicant will be booked for a future interview with an asylum officer. During this interview, one is allowed to bring witnesses to endorse their case and have their immigration lawyer present.

After the interview, the case will be reviewed and thereafter asylum may be granted or denied. The review stage can take anywhere between two weeks to several months depending on the number of cases being handled at that particular time. The applicant will be advised on when they should go back to the immigration office to get the results of the application. If the review takes longer than one month, the results will be mailed to the address provided by the applicant.


The second type of asylum application is called the defensive process. This process is used when:

  1. An asylum seeker has been arrested by immigration authorities for getting into the country illegally.
  2. When a person applies for asylum after living in the country for over a year without proper documentation.
  3. When an asylum application made through the affirmative process fails to be granted and the applicant lodges an appeal.

It is considerably more difficult for asylum to be granted through the defensive process, especially when the applicant has been arrested by immigration authorities prior to their application. Such cases are typically conducted in a setting similar to the one used in criminal court proceedings. An immigration judge and an attorney from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency will present during the hearing. If the applicant successfully argues their case, the judge may grant them asylum. If the applicant fails to provide sufficient justification for their case, the judge will reject their application and issue a deportation order.

Defensive asylum hearings tend to be more hostile compared to affirmative process cases. This is due to the fact that the circumstances surrounding such application usually suggest that the person seeking asylum had the intention of living in the United States without any form of legal documentation. As a result, the applicant is likely to come up against a formidable prosecution team determined to counter all defensive arguments and witness testimonies that they may present. It is therefore in one’s best interest to seek the services of a good immigration lawyer present to provide guidance and legal aid through the entire process.


The United States of America is considered by many people as the country with the highest regard for individual freedom and human rights. It is therefore the ideal destination for anyone trying to escape from oppression and persecution in their home country. Unfortunately, the US immigration policy is also ranked among the most stringent in the world. It is very difficult for an asylum seeker to convince the immigration authorities that their situation warrants the granting of a permanent residency status in the country.

An immigration lawyer can help you formulate a compelling case and also guide you through the entire application process – from filling in your application to going through the interviews or court hearings. If you are facing the threat of persecution in your home country, obtaining legal immigration status in the US can be a life or death matter and you should take no chances by going it alone. Hiring a good immigration lawyer will significantly raise your chances of success and make you go through the process with less anxiety.