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Legal Information: Federal


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January 24, 2019

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/her country of nationality because of mistreatment/abuse (persecution) or a well-founded fear of mistreatment/abuse based on one or more of the following protected grounds:

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

If you were a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or other gender-based violence in your home country, please see Can a victim of domestic violence file for asylum? for more information about applying for asylum.

An individual seeking asylum comes to the U.S. on his/her own by:

  • using a nonimmigrant visa;
  • presenting him/herself at a port of entry; or
  • entering the U.S. without inspection (in other words, without permission or proper papers).

Unlike a refugee, a person seeking asylum does not receive any assistance from the U.S. government before arriving in the U.S.

If you are an undocumented person and are not in removal proceedings, you can apply for asylum affirmatively at the Asylum Office, even if you are no longer or were never in status. If you are already in removal proceedings, you can apply for asylum as a defense to deportation at the Immigration Court, which means you are asking to not be removed from the U.S. because you should be granted asylum. Either way, the deadline for filing an asylum application is one year from your last date of entry into the U.S. If you have been in the U.S. for longer than one year, you can still apply but will need to show either extraordinary circumstances or changed circumstances to explain why you did not file within one year.2

If you are undocumented and your application for asylum is not granted, it could ultimately result in your deportation.3 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 National Organizations Immigration page.

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