What You Need to Know About the U.S. Asylum Application Process

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Last month, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced several critical changes to the U.S. asylum application process. Since this news broke, there has been a lot of confusion and questions about what these changes mean for immigrants.

Next, we will answer some of the most common questions about obtaining asylum in the United States:

  1. Who can apply for asylum?
  2. Can I include family members in my asylum application?
  3. What is needed to request asylum?
  4. What are the new 2022 changes to the asylum process?
  5. What is the new 150-day rule for an asylum-based Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
  6. How long does the asylum process take?

Who can apply for asylum?

You may apply for asylum if you are physically present in the United States or at a port of entry. Asylum seekers come from all over the world and flee their country because they fear they will be harmed based on their:

  • race; 
  • religion;
  • nationality; 
  • political opinion; or 
  • membership in a particular social group. 

You can request asylum regardless of your immigration status and within one year of your arrival to the United States. According to USCIS, you will not be eligible to apply for asylum if you fill out your application after being in the United States for more than one year. However, you may qualify for an exception if you show the following:

  • Changed circumstances materially affecting your eligibility for asylum or
  • Extraordinary circumstances relating to your delay in filing.

You must still file your application within a reasonable time under the circumstances to be eligible for an exception. We recommend that you seek advice from a lawyer for these legal matters.

Can I include family members in my asylum application?

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of an approved asylee can also benefit from that same status, whether they are:

  1. Already in the United States at the time or 
  2. Living in another country. 

In both cases, the person who wins asylum must fill out an I-730 application (following-to-join) for each family member who meets those conditions. You have two years to do so, and the term begins to count from the day USCIS approves your asylum case.

What is needed to request asylum?

To apply for asylum, you must complete Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. To be granted asylum, an individual must provide evidence demonstrating either that they have suffered persecution on account of a protected ground in the past, and/or that they have a “well-founded fear” of future persecution in their home country. 

There are three ways of obtaining asylum in the United States:

  1. The affirmative process;
  2. The defensive process; or
  3. An Asylum Merits Interview after a positive credible fear determination.

Please click here if you would like more information on the differences between these three types of asylum.

What is the new 150-day rule for an asylum-based Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

You can apply for an employment authorization document (EAD), also known as a work permit, 150 days after submitting your I-589 asylum application instead of waiting 365 days. But beware, you are not eligible for a work permit until your asylum application has been pending for 180 days. Please click here for more detailed information on the new 2022 asylum process changes.

How long does the asylum process take?

The length of the asylum process varies; it can take anywhere between 6 months to several years. Processing times may vary depending on whether the asylum seeker filed affirmatively or defensively and on the particular facts of their asylum claim.

  • If you filed an affirmative application for asylum in the U.S. (meaning one where you are in the U.S. but not in removal or deportation proceedings), USCIS should conduct your asylum interview within 45 days after the date the application is filed and decide on the application within 180 days after filing unless exceptional circumstances arise. This rule is because of the Immigration and Nationality Act. 
  • Under the defensive asylum process, applicants must go through the immigration court system, which faces significant backlogs. As of September 2022, there were almost 2 million pending immigration cases and the average wait time for an immigration hearing was 1,093 days- nearly three years! 

If you would like more information and resources regarding asylum, please read our following articles:

**Noticias para Inmigrantes is a media and communications organization that provides independent reporting and commentary on issues affecting immigrants in the United States. It should be noted that we do not provide legal assistance or legal advice for any case unless we interview a specialized source on the subject. It is critical to clarify that each case is different, and it is important to consult with your attorney.

Mitzi Colin Lopez is a Digital Ads Content Creator and Experimenter at Noticias Para Inmigrantes. Her origin as a Mexican immigrant characterizes and drives her to empower the Latinx, Hispanic and immigrant communities. She is a recent graduate of West Chester University, where she obtained her bachelor’s in Political Science and Spanish. Her passions include social justice, advocacy, hiking, traveling, and weightlifting.