Immigration Lawyers Los Angeles: Immigration Questions: What is Political Asylum

General Overview of Political Asylum Seekers

Immigrants who are in the United States may apply for political asylum, and their application may be granted asylum at the discretion of the USCIS officer if it is determined that the immigrant has a fear of persecution due to his/her:
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Membership in social groups
  • Political opinions
Anyone seeking political asylum must establish their persecution on at least one of these five instances. Asylum seekers must file an application within one year after entry into the United States, legally or illegally. Some exceptions may be granted for extraordinary circumstances.

Who Is a Refugee

The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 together with the 1967 United Nations Protocol defines a refugee as:
"Any person who is outside their country of origin and unable or unwilling to return there or to avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion."

Refugees in general are people who have been forced out of their homes and they no longer have a place to call home, at least temporarily. This could be due to persecution or other events such as wars, natural disasters, etc. Some might return home when things get to normal and other might never be able to return. Those who are unable to return home due to fear of persecution may seek political asylum or refugee resettlement in a different country.

For more information on refugees, please visit UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) website.

Difference between Asylees and Refugees

Technically, political asylum seekers and refugees are the same. The main difference between asylees and refugees has to do with how they are required to apply for their respective statuses and their eligibility for permanent residency in the United States.
  • Asylees can apply at U.S. port of entry or after they are already in the United States and refugees are required to apply abroad and wait for approval before they can travel to the U.S.
  • Both asylees and refugees can apply for green card residency after one year, but refugees are required by law to apply for permanent residency and asylees are not required by law to apply but they are eligible to apply.
Policies related to asylum seekers are regulated under The United States Refugee Act of 1980.

Political Asylum Application

Immigrants must file for political asylum with Form I-589 within one year after entry into the United States. The application may include spouse and children under the age of 21 if they are already in the U.S. If the asylum application is approved, the immigrant may file for a petition (Form I-730) for his/her spouse and children under 21 if they are outside the U.S.

Asylum seekers may not apply for permission to work in the United States at the time of their application for asylum. They must wait for 150 days from the date they filed their asylum application. Once 150 days have passed, they may apply for employment authorization with Form I-765 even if a decision has not been made on their application.

Asylum Seekers Who Wish to Travel outside the U.S.

Asylees can travel outside the United States after their applications for asylum have been approved. But they must obtain permission to return back to the U.S. by filing refugee travel document (Form I-131) before they leave the U.S. Political asylum seekers who have left the U.S. will need the refugee travel document to re-enter the U.S., and those who do not obtain the refugee travel document in advance risk losing their asylee status and may not be able to re-enter the U.S.

Last reviewed on: 06/15/2012
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