Political Asylum

Political Asylum: Immigration Basics

Political AsylumThere are lots of reasons people want to immigrate to the US – economic opportunity and reuniting with family top the list. But lots of people also come to the US seeking political asylum.

What Is Political Asylum?

People facing persecution in their home countries may seek “political asylum” in the US. Essentially, they’re asking for the right to stay in the country because of that persecution. Technically, political asylum only applies to people that have already made it to the US; people that are still outside the US and are applying to move to the country are refugees rather than asylum-seekers. The rules for refugees are different.

Who Can Claim Political Asylum?

In order to claim political asylum, you must prove that you were persecuted in your home country or that you have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future. In addition, the central reason for that persecution must be one or more of these categories:

  • nationality
  • membership in a social or political group
  • political views
  • race
  • religion

In recent years, persecution based on gender has been recognized in some cases as well.

Only one type of persecution – coercive population control programs like forced abortions or sterilization – is defined. Otherwise, persecution generally means you have suffered or been harmed, or you have a well-founded fear of those things happening to you in the future. Note that economic suffering alone does not qualify as persecution, but interference in your privacy, family life, ability to get identification documents, education, and other non-physical harm can qualify.

If you haven’t actually suffered harm, it’s a little bit harder to meet the persecution requirement. You’ll need to offer proof such as death threats based on your political views. You can also show evidence that other people in your category are being persecuted; you don’t have to show that you have personally been threatened.

In order to claim asylum, the threat to your safety must be national – you can’t claim asylum if you could find safety by moving to a different area of the country.

How Do I Claim Political Asylum?

In order to claim asylum, you can fill out an application online through US Citizenship and Immigration Services. You can still apply if you’re in the country illegally, as long as you’re not currently involved in removal proceedings. In general, you need to apply within a year of arriving in the US. However, there are exceptions to that rule for extraordinary circumstances, changed circumstances, or problems with your legal representation.

Once you file your application, you’ll need to go in for at least one interview with USCIS to talk about your circumstances. Decisions are usually made within 180 days. You can’t apply to work at the same time as you apply for asylum, but you can apply to work if it has been at least 150 days since you applied and you still haven’t received a decision. Once your application is approved, you can start working right away.

You can typically apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum. However, you may be denied if you no longer fit the criteria for an asylee. For example, a change in circumstances in your home country may wipe out the threat to your safety.

What About My Family?

When you apply for political asylum, you can include your spouse and children in your application. You’ll need to fill out an additional petition along with your asylum application. You can do that at the same time as you apply for asylum or at any time before a decision is made about your application.

Legal Help

Applying for political asylum can be a complicated and confusing process – not to mention the fact that you’re already stressed about your circumstances. The help of an experienced immigration lawyer can make all the difference in the success of your application. We can help match you with an experienced local attorney to take a look at your case and help you decide how to proceed.


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