Political asylum can be sought by people already located in the United States who are afraid of being persecuted in their home countries.

Refugee immigration status is for people who wish to come to the United States due to fear of persecution in their home countries. These individuals can apply for refugee immigration status while still living outside the United States. If accepted, they may become political refugees.

What U.S. Agency Decides Political Asylum and Refugee Issues?

Before September 2002, the agency that was charged with overseeing immigration issues was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In September 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, transferring the powers of the INS to the Department of Homeland Security. The immigration service functions of the INS are now placed under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

Seeking Political Asylum or Refugee Immigration Status in the United States

Political asylum and refugee immigration status are available to people who reside in the United States because they fear persecution or have experienced persecution in their homeland. Individuals seeking political asylum or refugee immigration status must fear that their home country may persecute them, or has persecuted them, because of:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Membership in a certain social group
  • Political opinion

Economic suffering is not included as a reason for which the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may grant political asylum or refugee status in the United States.

Requirements for Seeking Political Asylum in the United States

If you seek political asylum because you are afraid of persecution in your home country, you must apply for political asylum within one year of entering the United States. In order to apply for asylum, you must file Form I-189, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal.

No fee is required to apply. One year after you are granted political asylum, you are given the opportunity to apply for a permanent visa, or green card by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. A separate I-485 application is required for each family member who received asylum based on your case.

Are There Any Quotas Limiting Those Seeking Political Asylum or Refugee Status?

Every year, the President of the United States sets a quota, or limit, on the amount of people who are allowed to enter the United States under refugee status. Under immigration law, officials of the Executive Branch review the refugee situation, and enter into a discussion of whether there are sufficient humanitarian reasons for admitting refugees into the U.S. A Presidential Determination that is then drafted and signed by the President, sets forth the number refugees who can enter the U.S. the next year.

There is no quota or limit on the number of people allowed to gain asylum.

What if I Do Not Fit the Criteria for Political Asylum or Refugee Status?

If you wish to stay in the United States because you fear your home country, but do not fit into the criteria for political asylum or refugee status, there are a few other options available to you:

  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – If conditions in your home country are dangerous, the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate that country to be unsafe for the return of its nationals, in which case the USCIS may grant TPS status to citizens of that country.
  • Amnesty – If you have already been living in the United States illegally, or your immigration status has expired, you may be eligible for amnesty, provided that that is the only illegal activity in which you have engaged. The United States issues green cards for those granted amnesty. Congress decides which groups of persons should be granted amnesty. Because only certain people are eligible for amnesty, you should consult an immigration lawyer to see if there are any amnesty opportunities currently available.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

As with any immigration issue before the USCIS, procedural rules and regulations are very detailed and narrow, and an immigration lawyer can help you sift through them. An immigration lawyer can also help you determine if you are eligible for political asylum, refugee status, or another status before you present your case to the USCIS.