If you or someone you love is unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to a fear of persecution, apply for asylum or refugee status as soon as possible.
If you have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for certain reasons in your national country, you may seek refugee or asylee status in the United States. How can you know which status to apply for and if you’re eligible? The differences between asylee status and refugee status can be confusing but the distinctions are important. Here is a brief summary of these differences and an explanation of who is eligible for asylee or refugee status.
Who is Considered a Refugee?
The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as “a person who is outside the country of his nationality, because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” Article 33 of the 1967 Protocol says that no country that has signed the Protocol may expel or return a refugee to the country where he may be threatened because of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Because the U.S. has signed the 1967 Protocol, the U.S. must abide by this provision. Congress has passed numerous statutes to satisfy the U.S.’s obligations under this protocol.
How Does Asylee Status Differ from Refugee Status?
Under these statutes, if the government determines that you qualify for refugee status, the government is required to allow you to enter (or remain in) the U.S. Which country you are in determines whether the government assigns you asylee or refugee status:
- If the government makes its determination when you are inside the U.S., then you are an asylee under U.S. law. The government must allow you to remain in the U.S. (See the statute here).
- If the government makes its determination when you are outside the U.S., you are a refugee under U.S. law. The government must allow you to enter the U.S. (See the statute here).
Thus, the difference between asylees and refugees is somewhat confusing: Under international law, you are a refugee if you are unwilling to return to your home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for one of the listed reasons. However, U.S. law only designates you as a refugee if you are outside of the U.S. when the government makes its determination that you have such a well-founded fear. If you are inside the U.S. when the U.S. makes this determination, then you are an asylee as defined by U.S. law, but a refugee as defined by international law.
What Rights Do Asylees and Refugees Have?
If you are an asylee or refugee, your biggest benefit is that you will not be returned to your home country, where you may face persecution. You may, after one year, apply to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. After becoming a lawful permanent resident, you may eventually become a U.S. citizen.
Who is Eligible to Become a Refugee or Asylee?
To become a refugee or asylee, you must prove to the government that you meet the definition at the beginning of this article: that you are unable or unwilling to return to your home country because you have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.
Federal courts, immigration courts, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), have issued many decisions and regulations discussing the meaning of those terms; the precise standard varies in different courts, and has changed over time. The many intricacies of the law cannot be fully presented in an article of this length. Those interested in further explanation of the standard for granting asylum may wish to consult Kurzban’s Immigration Law Sourcebook. Kurzban’s is one of the best immigration law resources available and is regularly updated with the latest court rulings and legal developments.
You may not apply for asylum or refugee status if:
- You have ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of others due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion;
- You have been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, and constitute a danger to the community of the United States;
- There are serious reasons for believing that you have committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States before you arrived in the U.S.;
- There are reasonable grounds for regarding you as a danger to the security of the United States;
- You have participated in, endorsed, or espoused terrorist activity, or are a member or supporter of a terrorist organization; or
- You were firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States.
For further information on how to apply for asylum when you are in the United States, click on the website of the USCIS here. For information on applying for refugee status if you are outside the U.S., click on the USCIS website here.
Apply for Asylum or Refugee Status Early
If you or someone you love is unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to a fear of persecution, apply for asylum or refugee status as soon as possible. Do it quickly, because if you are in the U.S., you must apply for asylum within one year after arrival. Asylum and refugee status has enabled many people to enter or remain in the U.S. when they would not have been able to become legally present in the U.S. any other way. If you have a well-founded fear of persecution, international law and U.S. law have given you an important tool. Use it!