According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) agency, “Asylum is a form of protection from removal to a country of feared persecution that allows an eligible refugee to remain in the United States and eventually to become a lawful permanent resident.” An asylum-seeker is a displaced foreign national who has not been firmly resettled in another country and has arrived in the United States requesting to live in America long-term because he or she is “unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” During 2017, the USCIS agency granted asylum for 26,568 foreign nationals.

A person who is seeking asylum in the US must file the Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) within one year of entering the United States. The main applicant may include his or her spouse and unmarried children who are under 21 years of age on the application. After the foreign national applies for asylum in the United States, he or she will need to provide biometric data (such as fingerprints) and a security background check will be done by USCIS and other government agencies. The individual who is seeking asylum will usually be sent an interview notice within 21 days after the complete Form I-589 was filed, with information about the date, time and location for the asylum interview. An Asylum Officer will conduct the interview with the asylum-seeker at one of eight Asylum Offices located in the US (or at a District Office, if the Asylum Office is too far away), normally within 45 days after the complete Form I-589 was filed. The Asylum Officer will next determine if the applicant satisfies the criteria for granting asylum and that decision will then be reviewed by a Supervisory Asylum Officer. The asylum-seeker will normally be asked to return to the Asylum Office (or District Office) about two weeks after the interview in order to receive the decision. In general, it usually takes about 60 days to receive a decision after the complete asylum application is filed with USCIS, but it can sometimes take longer (for example, if the security background check is not yet finished).

The asylum-seeker is not allowed to work in the USA until 150 days after he or she filed a complete application for asylum (Form I-589) from inside the United States, excluding any delays caused by the person seeking asylum and only if a decision regarding granting asylum has not yet been made. The asylum-seeker is permitted to work in the US as soon as asylum is officially approved.

Someone who was granted asylum in the United States has two years in which to file the Form I-730 (Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition) to request that his or her spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age (as relevant) be approved for relocation to the United States (for example, if the asylum-seeker entered the US without his or her family). One year after being granted asylum, a foreign national may apply for adjustment of status with the USCIS, from temporary resident to permanent resident, and be issued a US Green Card if approved. The Green Card holder who was granted asylum may apply to become an American citizen after living in the USA for five years as a permanent resident and satisfying additional requirements.

Please note that this is a general overview regarding relocation to the United States for humanitarian reasons as a refugee or by seeking asylum and be aware that the eligibility criteria and procedures are subject to change at any time by the US government.

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