Legal Information: Federal


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August 3, 2018

What is asylum? Who can be eligible for asylum status?

Asylum is an immigration status that may be granted to someone who is already here in the U.S. and is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution (mistreatment/abuse) or a well-founded fear of persecution based on one or more of the following:

  1. race;
  2. religion;
  3. nationality;
  4. membership in a particular social group; or
  5. political opinion.1

An individual seeking asylum comes to the U.S. on his/her own; either by using a nonimmigrant visa or by entering the U.S. without inspection (when a person enters the country illegally). Unlike a refugee, a person seeking asylum does not receive any assistance from the U.S. government before arriving in the U.S.

Note: Foreign victims of sexual abuse may qualify for asylum status if their abuse was related to any of the five protected grounds listed above. However, for victims of domestic violence committed by an intimate partner, it may not be possible to get asylum based on the abuse. In 2018, the federal government overturned critical protections for domestic violence survivors seeking asylum and restricted the ability of domestic violence survivors fleeing abuse to get asylum. These restrictions prevent judges from making case-by-case decisions on the merits of an individual victim’s claim. We recommend contacting a knowledgeable immigration attorney who has experience working on asylum before applying for any claim.

An undocumented person can apply for asylum2 but if the application is denied, it could ultimately result in his/her deportation. It is important to speak to a lawyer who has experience in this area of law. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our International / Immigration page.

1 INA § 101(a)(42), 8 CFR § 208.13
2 See USCIS website