Written by attorney Carl Michael Shusterman

How to apply for asylum in the US

What is asylum?

Asylum is freedom from prosecution or deportation after fleeing a country for the United States. It is typically reserved for those fearing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, social grouping, or political opinion. Individuals who are granted asylum may later apply to adjust their status to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Asylum differs from the United States Refugee Program, as it provides protection to those individuals who have already made it to the United States, rather than bringing people to the United States for resettlement. Individuals seeking asylum may apply regardless of their country of origin or current immigration status. Also unlike the refugee program, there are no quotas on individuals granted asylum each year.

If you have arrived in the United States from a foreign country seeking safety from persecution, you can ask for asylum at any port of entry, such as a border crossing, airport, or seaport. You have the burden of proving that you are eligible for asylum. You will be asked to complete Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, within one year of your arrival in the United States although there are many exceptions to the one-year rule.

Asylum process

  • STEP 1: Asylum-seeker arrives in the United States

  • STEP 2: Asylum-seeker files Form I-589 with the appropriate USCIS service center within one year of arriving in the U.S. You will receive a confirmation notice when the service center receives the application, which begins the actual asylum process.

  • STEP 3: Seeker receives notice that they must have their fingerprints taken. You will be given a two-week period to get your prints taken at a designated site. Your prints will be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a background check. The FBI screening must take place before your I-589 application is reviewed.

  • STEP 4: Applicant is then scheduled for an interview with an asylum officer. Due to current backlogs, this may one year or more.

  • STEP 5: The applicant is interviewed at one of the eight regional asylum offices or at a USCIS field office. You should bring an attorney or other representative to the interview. Any other individual, such as a spouse or children, who wishes to receive asylum benefits with you must also be present. It is your responsibility to also bring an interpreter, if necessary.

  • STEP 6: Asylum officer makes a decision on eligibility; supervising asylum officer reviews this decision. USCIS officers determine if you are eligible to apply for asylum, you meet the legal definition of a refugee, and if you are barred from asylum in any other way.

  • STEP 7: Applicant receives decision. In most cases, you will receive the decision within a few weeks after your interview. The decisions may be a grant of asylum, recommended approval, referral to an immigration court, notice of intent to deny, or final denial.

If you have further questions about the asylum process or a more specific question regarding a particular asylum issue, please examine the resources listed below or contact an experienced immigration attorney.

Additional resources:

Form I-589

USCIS Site on Asylum

Information guide for prospective asylum applicants (English)

Information guide for prospective asylum applicants (Other languages)

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