Seeking Refugee or Asylum Status in the United States

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there are more refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced individuals around the world now than at any other time since World War II. This massive increase is largely attributable to the Syrian war, but displacement is also occurring at high rates in Central African Republic and South Sudan. Less than one percent of refugees eventually resettle in a third country, with most either returning to their home country or remaining in the country to which they fled. The U.S. State Department estimates that over half of the refugees who resettle in a third country will do so in the United States.

What is the Difference Between Asylum and Refugee Status?

A refugee is someone outside of the United States who has fled their home country out of fear that they will be persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Asylum status is for those who meet the definition of a refugee but are already in the United States or seeking admission at a border or port of entry.

How Does Someone Apply for Refugee or Asylum Status in the United States?

In most cases, you must first receive a referral from the UNHCR, or a U.S. embassy or consulate in order to apply for refugee status in the United States. If you receive a referral, you will be asked to submit certain USCIS forms and accompanying documents and a USCIS officer will conduct an interview with you abroad to determine whether you are eligible for refugee resettlement.

If you are already living in the United States, you will have to complete a USCIS Form I-589 along with any documentation that supports your claim within one year of your arrival to the country. A USCIS officer will then conduct an interview to determine whether you are eligible for asylum.

If you are seeking entry at a U.S. border or port of entry and you do not have a valid visa or entry document, you can ask for asylum by explaining that you fear returning home. You will then be placed in a detention facility and will be given an interview to determine whether you have a credible fear of returning home. If the asylum officer determines that you have a credible fear of persecution, you will be referred to an immigration judge and will have no longer than seven days to prepare your case. If the asylum officer does not believe your fear is credible you could be removed from the country without any further appeals.

Who Meets the Definition of Refugee?

In order to meet the definition of a refugee under U.S. law, someone:

  • Is located outside of the United States;
  • Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States;
  • Demonstrated that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Under Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act the fear of persecution must be “well-founded,” which can sometimes be difficult to demonstrate;
  • Is not firmly resettled in another country; and
  • Is admissible to the United States.

Anyone who ordered, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of a person on the basis of the previously mentioned categories, would not be eligible for refugee status. The definition of refugee would also exclude someone who has left his or her country due to economic hardship.

Consult an Attorney

If you or a loved one are considering applying for refugee or asylum status in the United States, you should consult with a qualified immigration attorney at 1Georgia Injury Lawyers, PLLC. Contact our skilled Savannah immigration attorneys to learn your options. We serve many areas, including Savannah and Macon.