The immigration process is one of the most complex legal processes and the bedrock of the American identity. One of the most complex and potentially misunderstood processes is the asylum-seeking process.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, asylum seekers come to the United States because they are fleeing persecution. That persecution may include persecution for:
- Membership in a particular social group
- Political opinion
These asylum seekers may apply for asylum along with their spouse and or children. This application may be filed up to one year after their arrival in the United States.
The USCIS lists seven steps to the asylum process:
- Arrive in the U.S.
The USCIS states that in order to apply for asylum the applicant must be currently physically present in the United States.
- Apply for Asylum
Within one year of arriving in the United States, the asylum-seeker must file a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. If an asylum seeker fails to file this application within a year, they will no longer be eligible for asylum. They may also be ineligible to file for asylum if they have previously been denied by an immigration court or if there is a safe third country that the asylum seeker can be removed to under an agreement with the United States.
- Fingerprinting and Background/Security Checks
Once the USCIS has received the completed application, a notice will be sent to the asylum seeker with a receipt and a date for a fingerprinting appointment. At the appointment the asylum seeker will be fingerprinted and entered into the USCIS system.
- Receive an Interview Notice
Once the USCIS has fingerprinted the asylum seeker, they will send out an interview notice. If there is an issue with the date, time, or location of the interview, the asylum seeker may contact USCIS to review their options.
At the interview stage, the asylum seeker discusses why they must receive asylum. An attorney or accredited representative may come to the interview. If the asylum seeker cannot speak English, they must provide an interpreter.
- Asylum Officer Makes Determination on Eligibility and Supervisory Asylum Officer Reviews the Decision
After the interview, the interviewer will determine whether the asylum seeker or seekers are eligible to apply for asylum, meet the definition of a refugee in section 101(a)(42)(A) of the INA, or are barred from being granted asylum under section 208(b)(2) of the INA. A supervisory asylum officer will then review the asylum officer’s decision and depending on the case, the supervisory asylum officer may refer the decision to asylum division staff at USCIS headquarters for additional review to ensure the application is consistent with the law.
- Receive Decision
Typically the USCIS states that the interview decision should be released within 2 weeks but the wait time may be extended because they are currently in “valid immigration status,” were interviewed at a field office instead of a main office, are awaiting security checks, or are awaiting review by asylum division staff at USCIS headquarters.
If you are applying for asylum status or attempting to navigate the immigration process, contacting a lawyer is advisable. An experienced immigration attorney can improve the odds of a successful asylum case significantly.