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Asylum Requirements

A refugee – a person who was or would be persecuted in their country of nationality or country of residence, and is unwilling or unable to return to their country.

What are the asylum requirements in the United States?

Asylum requirements in the United States are quite strict. But if you were forced to leave your home country, you still may consider arriving to the U.S. to seek asylum. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) specifies various requirements for asylum seekers. And, therefore, you must first verify if you qualify for asylum in the U.S.

For a start, the very basic asylum requirement is that an applicant must provide enough evidence for the grounds why he or she left their country. But we also are going to discuss several other eligibility criteria that a refugee must respect to qualify for asylum.

The basic eligibility requirements for asylum in the U.S.

First, you can apply for asylum only when you are located on the territory of the United States. USCIS allows asylum seekers to file an application for asylum after they were legally admitted to the U.S. or at their Port-of-Entry such as an airport, a border control, or a seaport. USCIS also requires that refugees apply for asylum during the first year that they entered the United States. (As we will mention further below, there are certain cases when you can break this asylum requirement.)

Note that USCIS will let you apply for asylum no matter what is your legal status in the U.S. That is, even if you illegally entered the U.S., meaning you did not obtain a visa, you are still allowed to apply for asylum.

(If you are located outside the U.S., you may apply for refugee protection instead of asylum.)

Besides just entering the U.S., you must provide serious evidence to an asylum officer that you were or would be persecuted in your country. Note that the persecution must be motivated by at least one of the following reasons:

  • Membership in a particular social group;
  • Nationality;
  • Political opinion;
  • Race; or
  • Religion.

For example, if rebels are prosecuting people of different political opinion in your country, and you escaped because of that, then you pass the minimal requirements for asylum in the U.S. Besides the five main reasons that we listed above, refugees may sometimes apply for asylum if their prosecution was based on their gender or age.

The evidence to prove your potential or incurred prosecution may include your testimonial, evidence of your prosecution such as photographs or videos, government or police reports, and expert statements.

But having all the evidence and being eligible for receiving asylum may not be enough for USCIS to approve your application for asylum. In the following two sections, we will review the main grounds for rejection of your application.

When will USCIS deny your application for asylum?

Even if you do qualify for asylum, an immigration judge or asylum officer may deny asylum in your case. In general, the U.S. authorities reject applications for asylum for the following reasons:

  • The conditions in your country of nationality or residence have considerably changed.
  • You can move to a different region in your country to avoid being persecuted.
  • You can be removed to a different country that has special treaties with the United States.
  • If USCIS proves any of the conditions above, you will be ordered removed from the U.S. But those conditions are not the only grounds for denying asylum to an applicant.

Bars to Receiving Asylum in the U.S.

There are several additional conditions that generally lead to rejection of your application for asylum. Those conditions are often related to illegal activity. Here is a short list of such conditions:

  • You were convicted of a felony in the U.S. or in another country.
  • You support or supported any terrorist group.
  • You were persecuting people on the ground of their race, nationality, political views, or similar.
  • Your previous application for asylum was rejected;
  • You did not provide enough documentation to prove you fear coming back to your country.
  • You did not apply for asylum within the minimal period of time (one year).
  • A refugee will most certainly be denied getting asylum if he or she committed a crime such as a felony or any non-political crime in any country.

In case you were not in time to file application for asylum with USCIS, you may still get a chance to receive asylum. You must provide enough evidence to prove why you did not apply during your first year in the U.S. For example, you were not of legal age to apply for asylum during the first year in the U.S., or you had a serious illness or disability.

Proving that you are in time to apply for asylum can be difficult if you illegally entered the U.S. territory. Our suggestion is to prepare tickets or passport with a stamp when you left your country and entered the U.S.

In any of the mentioned cases, we strongly recommend that you contact an asylum or immigration lawyer to know your options. Because U.S. laws related to receiving asylum are quite complicated, it is not always clear whether you can apply for or receive asylum at all. A consultation with a lawyer will help you figure out if you meet all asylum requirements in the United States.