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How to Obtain Asylum Relief in the United States

Every year, thousands of people come to the United States in need of protection because they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Those found eligible for asylum are permitted to remain in the United States and are eligible to seek lawful permanent residence (green card) after one year.

The U.S. Asylum Program provides protection to qualified refugees who are already in the United States or are seeking entry into the United States at a port of entry. Asylum-seekers may apply for asylum in the United States regardless of their countries of origin as long as they have a credible fear of persecution .

There are no quotas on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum each year (with the exception of individuals whose claims are based solely on persecution for resistance to coercive population control measures)and the applicant's family may also gain benefits. Click here to read a list of frequently asked questions about asylum in the United States.

Obtaining Asylum in the United States: Two Paths

The two main ways of obtaining asylum in the United States are through the affirmative and the defensive process .

Key Differences Between “Affirmative” and “Defensive” Asylum Process


  • Asylum-seeker has not been placed in removal proceedings.
  • Asylum-seeker affirmatively submits his or her asylum application to a USCIS Service Center.
  • Asylum-seeker appears before a USCIS Asylum Officer.
  • Non-adversarial interview.


  • Asylum-seeker has been placed in removal proceedings in Immigration Court.
  • Asylum-seeker appears before an Immigration Judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review
  • Asylum-seeker:
    • Is referred by an Asylum Officer
    • Is placed in removal proceedings for Immigration law violations, or
    • Tried to enter the US at a port-of-entry without proper documents and was found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture
    • Adversarial court hearing

    Ineligibility to Apply for Asylum

    An asylum-seeker is ineligible to apply for asylum under section 208(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act if he or she:

    • Failed to file an asylum application (Form I-589) within one year of his or her last arrival in the United States or April 1, 1997, whichever is later.
    • EXCEPTION: Exception to the 1-year filing deadline: The applicant demonstrates either the existence of changed circumstances which materially affect the applicant’s eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing. The applicant needs to have filed the application within a reasonable time given the exception.

    • Previously applied for asylum and was denied by an Immigration Judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals
    • EXCEPTION: Exception to Previous Denials of Asylum: The applicant establishes the existence of changed circumstances which materially affect his or her eligibility for asylum.

    • Can be removed to a safe third country pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement.
    • EXCEPTION: USCIS published regulations implementing a bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada on November 29, 2004. Unless asylum-seekers arriving at a U.S./Canada land border port of entry or transiting through the United States while being removed from Canada fall within an exception to the agreement, they will be returned to Canada and seek protection there.


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The information provided on this site is intended to teach individuals and corporations their rights and protect them from fraud. It is not a substitute for professional advice from an experienced immigration attorney and should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for advice regarding your specific situation.

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