Immigration Law

An Overview of Asylum and Refugee Status in the United States

You most likely have read or heard about the push to implement restrictions on immigration to the United States. The loud calls for immigration reform apply to immigrants who migrate to the United States and remain residents, without following the immigration laws currently on the books. One aspect of immigration law that often goes unnoticed by the media is the legal status of refugees and asylum seekers.

Here is an indisputable fact of law: Refugees and asylum seekers can gain legal residency within the United States if they meet the requirements mandated by American immigration laws.

Here is the most significant difference between refugees and asylum seekers:

  • Refugees ask the United Nations to help them relocate to the United States
  • Asylum applicants petition the United States government directly for legal residency status
  • Asylum seekers apply for residency while living in the United States
  • Refugees live outside the United States

Federal laws dictate the status of asylum and refugee seekers, with the federal government determining residency status by reviewing individual cases. The application submitted by a refugee or an asylum seeker represents the most important factor federal government officials use to make residency decisions.

About Asylum

Asylum is granted as legal protection to individuals who have relocated to the United States. To achieve asylum status, an applicant must unequivocally prove he or she will be persecuted if the United States government forces the applicant to return to his or her native country. Persecution takes many forms that include race, religion, nationality, social group status, and political opinion. Applicants have the most difficult time proving political opinions are the cause of persecution.

How to Seek Asylum

Individuals that apply for asylum status submit applications to the United States government. Federal law mandates that asylum seekers must submit applications before the end of the first year they have arrived to the country. The procedure for seeking asylum is much more complex than the procedure for seeking refugee status. Asylum applicants also run the risk of incarceration, while the United States government considers their asylum requests. Moreover, asylum applicants cannot search for work in the United States for 150 after they arrive to the country. Family members of asylum seekers might also be eligible for achieving asylum status, which means they enjoy the same benefits granted to the asylum seeker. Asylum seekers must name the family members they want to include in an asylum application. Anyone who receives approval of an asylum application has the legal right to apply for permanent residency status.

About Refugee Status

Refugees follow a similar road to United States residency as the legal road followed by asylum seekers. The primary difference is refugees apply for residency status while living outside of the United States. Refugees make their appeals directly to the United Nations and instead of just one applicant, refugees apply in large numbers. The United Nations handles all of the background checks performed on refugees, as well as making the decision on whether to allow refugees to migrate to the United States. Any refugee who wants to live in the United States must undergo intensive vetting performed by the United States government. Refugees typically come from war torn countries and countries that experience cataclysmic economic and/or weather disasters.

We encourage asylum seekers who have lived in the United States for less than a year to contact our immigration law office to schedule a free initial consultation. One of our licensed attorneys who specializes in handling asylum cases will determine the best way to assist you in achieving the American dream.


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