Asylum for Immigrants

Asylum is a type of protection granted by the United States to foreign nationals who are being persecuted and are in danger in their home country. With competent legal help, these individuals can often become legal residents of the US by proving that they have been persecuted or have a well grounded fear that they will be persecuted and/or damaged in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Persecuted foreign nationals may seek asylum if they are already in the United States or if they are seeking entry into the United States at a port of entry. If they are granted asylum, they are permitted to remain in the United States and will likely be eligible to apply to change their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.

In order to be granted asylum in the United States, the individual must be recognized as a persecuted dissident or a member of an oppressed minority from his or her home country. The fact that life is dangerous or difficult at home is not enough to meet the asylum standard. In order to receive asylum, the State Department or US immigration officials must acknowledge and recognize the danger and threat posed by the applicant’s home government for political activities or membership in a persecuted group. Furthermore, to be granted asylum, the government must be convinced the applicant and/or the applicant’s family would be placed in great danger if he, she, or they were returned to or were left in the home country. An applicant can be an individual or a whole family if their grounds for seeking asylum are the same.

The US government is well-informed regarding human rights abuses and the actions of oppressive governments throughout the world. In fact, the United States is the most generous of all the countries in granting asylum. Over two million people have been granted asylum in the US since 1980, more than the total of all nine other countries with the other highest rates of acceptance!

However, asylum is not granted simply because an individual would be returned to a land ruled by an oppressive government; rather, asylum is granted when there is proof that the home government would actually seek out the applicant to harm or kill the applicant because he or she is a political dissident or member of a group that is persecuted in the home country.

One example of worthy asylum applicants is Falun Gong[i] practitioners in China. China’s persecution of the Falun Gong is well-documented and established. U.S. government reports on China show that Falun Gong adherents are likely to face persecution at home. According to estimates by the State Department and human rights organization, since 1999, from several hundred to several thousand Falun adherents have died in Chinese custody from torture, abuse, and neglect. Many other followers have been suspended or expelled from school or demoted or dismissed from their jobs.

In 1999, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners protested in Beijing for greater freedom. The Communist government responded by outlawing Falun Gong, calling it an evil cult and imprisoning as many as 100,000 practitioners. The U.S. State Department in 2005 noted that Falun Gong practitioners “were sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons and re-education-through-labor camps, and there were credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse.”[ii] For Fiscal Year 2010 the President of the United States has recommended to Congress that 17,000 refugee immigrants be granted asylum from the persecutions experienced in East Asia; the report recommends that a total of 80,000 individuals be granted asylum in that same year.

Process: An applicant for asylum will need to complete an USCIS form I-589 (Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal). There is no fee. The process will normally be complete within 180 days from the date of filing. The applicant must show with some credible evidence substantial risk of harm based on wrongful persecution in the home country. USCIS conducts the asylum interview at one of their asylum offices around the United States depending on where the applicant is residing. If the USCIS asylum officer does not grant the claim, the applicant is referred immediately for deportation proceedings before an Immigration Judge. The applicant then has the opportunity to present his or her case before the immigration judge, who will either grant or deny the application; if it is denied, the judge will then enter an order of deportation. An applicant can appeal the Judge’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, then to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Refugees: Asylum status and refugee status are closely related. They differ only in the place where a person asks for asylum. A refugee is a person who applies for Asylum outside of the United States.

Eligibility: An applicant must ask for asylum at a port-of-entry or file an application within one year of arrival in the United States, unless one of the exceptions is met. An applicant may apply for asylum regardless of immigration status, even if illegally in the United States. In addition, there are no limits set on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum in the United States. Once a case is approved the applicant must wait one year to apply for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status. One year of residence prior to adjustment is counted toward the naturalization requirement.

Traveling Outside the United States: If an applicant wants to travel outside the United States, in order to return the applicant must receive advance permission before leaving the United States.

Work Permit: Asylum applicants cannot apply for employment authorization at the same time they apply for asylum. The applicant must wait 150 days after the USCIS receives an application before applying for employment authorization. USCIS has 30 days to grant or deny the request.

[i] Falun Gong is a spiritual practice originating in China that combines traditional Qigong movement exercises, breathing and meditation with moral teachings emphasizing truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. See its official web site for more information:

[ii] “Despite dramatic increases in religious observance in China, the government continues to harass and interfere with unregistered religious groups, most notably the unofficial Catholic churches loyal to the Holy See, Protestant -house churches, some Muslim groups (especially Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province), and Buddhists loyal to the Dalai Lama. There are many cases of arrest, imprisonment, and alleged torture of religious believers in China. Practitioners of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong have also been subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and alleged torture. In Burma, the government maintains a pervasive internal security apparatus that generally infiltrates or monitors the activities of all organizations, including religious groups. The government actively promotes Buddhism over other religions as a means of boosting its own legitimacy and continues harsh discrimination against religious minorities. On January 16, 2009, the DPRK, China, and Burma were re-designated by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as -Countries of Particular Concern for serious violations of religious freedom.” Page 28 of PROPOSED REFUGEE ADMISSIONS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2010 REPORT TO THE CONGRESS SUBMITTED ON BEHALF OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO THE COMMITTEES ON THE JUDICIARY UNITED STATES SENATE AND UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES