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Asylum is the legal protection granted to people who have come to the United States and are afraid to return to their home country. Asylum can be granted to people who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
To qualify for asylum, a foreign national must prove that he or she is unwilling to return to the home country because of past persecution or a fear that he or she will be persecuted upon return to the home country. The past or feared future harm must be because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It is also important for asylum-seekers to file their application within the one-year period after the person’s last date of entry into the United States.
An asylee—or a person granted asylum—is protected from being returned to his or her home country, is authorized to work in the United States, may apply for a Social Security card, may request permission to travel overseas, and can petition to bring family members to the United States. Asylees may also be eligible for certain government programs, such as Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance.
After one year, an asylee may apply for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a green card). Once the individual becomes a permanent resident, he or she must wait four years to apply for citizenship.
There are two primary ways in which a person may apply for asylum in the United States: the affirmative process and the defensive process.
Asylum seekers who arrive at a U.S. port of entry or enter the United States without inspection generally must apply through the defensive asylum process. Both application processes require the asylum seeker to be physically present in the United States.
Learn more from the American Immigration Council.