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US Asylum and Refugee Immigration System

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

Asylum and refugee status are two forms of international protection for individuals fleeing persecution and danger. The US immigration system allows pathways for asylum seekers and refugees to apply to build new lives within the safety of the United States. .

Asylum is granted to those already in the US who have suffered persecution or fear future persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. while refugee status applies to those outside their home country who meet similar criteria and seek resettlement in the US through a formal application process.

The impact of gaining asylum or refugee status is profound, providing individuals with the chance to live free from fear and to contribute meaningfully to US society. However, the processes to apply for asylum and refugee status are complex, with strict eligibility criteria and evidentiary requirements.

In this guide, we provide a detailed overview of the US asylum and refugee system, explaining the eligibility criteria, application procedures, and the challenges often faced by applicants.

While NNU Immigration are unable to provide advice to those seeking asylum or refugee status in the US, this guide includes links to resources and organizations that offer professional support to individuals making asylum and refugee applications.

 

Section A: What is Asylum?

 

Asylum is a form of protection offered to individuals already present in the United States who have experienced persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Those granted asylum are permitted to remain in the US, gain work authorization, and eventually apply for permanent residency and citizenship.

 

1. Differences Between Asylum Seekers and Refugees

 

While both asylum seekers and refugees seek protection from persecution, there are key differences between the two statuses.

Asylum seekers are individuals who are already present in the United States or at its border and are seeking protection due to persecution or fear of persecution. They must apply for asylum through the US immigration system.

Refugees apply for protection while outside the United States, often from refugee camps or other locations abroad. They undergo a thorough screening process conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and are subsequently resettled in the US through the US Refugee Admissions Program.

 

2. Legal Basis for Asylum in the US

 

The legal framework for asylum in the United States is established under both international and domestic laws.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol define the term “refugee” and outline the rights of individuals granted asylum and the obligations of states to protect them.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is a US federal law providing the primary legal basis for asylum. Under Section 208 of the INA, an individual may be granted asylum if they meet the definition of a refugee and are physically present in the United States or at a US port of entry.

The Refugee Act of 1980 amended the INA to align US law with international standards and established the current asylum system, including procedures for asylum applications and the rights of asylees.

 

Section B: Eligibility for Asylum in the US

 

Seeking asylum in the United States involves meeting specific criteria that demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in one’s home country. The asylum process is designed to protect individuals who face severe threats to their safety and freedom, allowing them to build new lives free from fear.

 

1. Criteria for Qualifying for Asylum

 

To qualify for asylum in the United States, an individual must meet several key criteria:

 

a. Presence in the United States: The applicant must be physically present in the United States or at a port of entry.

b. Persecution or Fear of Persecution: The applicant must have experienced past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution.

c. Grounds for Persecution: The persecution must be based on one or more of the following grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

d. Application within One Year: Generally, the applicant must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States, unless they can demonstrate changed circumstances or extraordinary conditions that justify the delay.

 

2. Types of Persecution Recognized

 

Persecution can take many forms, and not all harm or suffering qualifies as persecution under US asylum law. Recognized types of persecution include:

 

a. Race: Discrimination, violence, or other harm directed at an individual because of their race.

b. Religion: Persecution due to religious beliefs or practices, including forced conversion, religious-based violence, or severe discrimination.

c. Nationality: Harm inflicted because of an individual’s nationality, which may involve ethnic conflicts or targeted attacks.

d. Membership in a Particular Social Group: This category includes individuals who share a common characteristic that sets them apart, such as gender, sexual orientation, family ties, or other distinct attributes. The group must be recognized as socially distinct within the society in question.

e. Political Opinion: Persecution for holding or expressing political opinions, including opposition to government policies, activism, or membership in political organizations.

 

3. Examples of Situations That May Warrant Asylum

 

Various real-world situations exemplify the kinds of persecution that can qualify someone for asylum:

 

a. Political Dissidents: Individuals who have been imprisoned, tortured, or threatened due to their opposition to the government or political activities.

b. Religious Minorities: Members of religious groups who face violence, imprisonment, or forced conversion due to their faith.

c. Ethnic Minorities: People targeted by ethnic cleansing or systematic violence because of their ethnic background.

d. LGBTQ+ Individuals: Those persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, facing threats, violence, or severe discrimination in their home countries.

e. Gender-Based Violence: Women subjected to practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings, or severe domestic abuse that their home government cannot or will not control.

 

Section C: The Asylum Process in the US

 

While the process to apply for asylum in the US is designed to provide protection to those fleeing persecution, it remains complex and comprises multiple stages.

 

1. Steps to Apply for Asylum in the US

 

Step 1: Arrival in the US

The asylum seeker must be physically present in the US or at a US port of entry.

 

Step 2: Filing the Application

The applicant must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within one year of their arrival in the US.

 

Step 3: Biometrics Appointment

After submitting the application, the applicant will receive a notice for a biometrics appointment to collect fingerprints and other identifying information.

 

Step 4: Asylum Interview

An asylum officer conducts a non-adversarial interview to assess the applicant’s claim. During the interview, the applicant has the opportunity to present their case and provide supporting evidence.

 

Step 5: Decision by USCIS

The asylum officer will make a decision based on the interview and the evidence provided. The decision can be to grant asylum, refer the case to an immigration court for further review, or deny the application.

 

Step 6: Immigration Court Proceedings

If the case is referred to an immigration court, the applicant will have a hearing before an immigration judge who will make a final decision on the asylum application.

 

2. Documents and Evidence

 

To apply for asylum in the United States, applicants must provide a variety of important documents and evidence to support their claims. Personal identification is essential, including a passport, birth certificate, or any other form of identification. The asylum application process requires the completion of Form I-589, which is the official asylum application form.

Evidence of persecution is a critical component of the application. Applicants need to submit a detailed personal statement describing the persecution they faced. Additionally, police reports, medical records, or other documentation of past persecution should be included. Country condition reports or news articles that support the claims of persecution can also strengthen the case.

Supporting affidavits from witnesses or experts who can corroborate the applicant’s claims are valuable pieces of evidence. Finally, any relevant legal documents, such as visas or prior applications, should be included in the application to provide a comprehensive overview of the applicant’s immigration history and status.

 

3. Timeline for the Asylum Process

 

The timings when applying for asylum in the US can vary, but in general involve the following:

 

a. Filing the Application: The asylum application must be filed within one year of arrival in the US unless exceptional circumstances apply.

b. Biometrics Appointment: Typically scheduled within a few weeks of submitting the application.

c. Asylum Interview: Generally conducted within a few months of the biometrics appointment, though this can vary.

d. Decision: USCIS aims to make a decision within 180 days of filing the application, but delays are common.

e. Immigration Court Proceedings: If referred to an immigration court, the process can take several months to years, depending on the court’s backlog.

 

4. Possible Outcomes of an Asylum Application

 

When you apply for asylum in the US, your application will result in one of the following outcomes:

 

a. Grant of Asylum

The applicant is granted asylum, allowing them to live and work in the US. They can apply for permanent residency (a green card) after one year and eventually for US citizenship.

 

b. Referral to Immigration Court

If USCIS does not grant asylum, the case is referred to an immigration court, where an immigration judge will make a final decision.

 

c. Denial of Asylum

If the application is denied by the immigration judge, the applicant may appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and, if necessary, to the federal courts.

If asylum is denied, the applicant might still be eligible for other forms of relief (such as withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)), which offer fewer benefits than asylum but still protect against deportation.

 

Section D: Applying for Refugee Status

 

Applying for refugee status is a separate legal process from seeking asylum and is primarily conducted from outside the United States.

Refugees are individuals who, due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, cannot return to their home countries.

 

1. How to Apply for Refugee Status from Outside the US

 

Step 1: Initial Contact and Registration

Individuals seeking refugee status typically first contact the UNHCR or a US embassy in their current country of refuge. They may also register with local authorities or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work with refugees.

 

Step 2: Refugee Status Determination (RSD)

The UNHCR conducts a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) interview to assess whether the individual meets the criteria for refugee status under international law.

 

Step 3: Referral to the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)

If deemed eligible, the UNHCR or US embassy refers the individual to the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for resettlement consideration.

 

Step 4: USCIS Interview and Security Screening

Referred individuals undergo an interview with a USCIS officer to assess their eligibility for resettlement in the United States. This process includes rigorous security screenings and background checks involving multiple US agencies.

 

Step 5: Medical Examination

Applicants must undergo a medical examination to ensure they meet health requirements for entry into the US.

 

Step 6: Cultural Orientation and Travel Arrangements

Approved refugees receive cultural orientation to help them prepare for life in the United States. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assists with travel arrangements to the US.

 

2. Role of the UNHCR

 

The UNHCR plays a crucial role in the asylum and refugee process. One of its primary functions is the identification and registration of individuals seeking protection. This involves documenting these individuals and assessing their immediate needs to ensure they receive the necessary support.

The UNHCR also conducts Refugee Status Determination (RSD) interviews. These interviews are designed to determine if individuals qualify for refugee status based on their claims of persecution. This step is essential in establishing the legitimacy of their need for protection.

Once eligibility is confirmed, the UNHCR refers eligible refugees to various resettlement programs in different countries, including the United States. The referral process is based on criteria such as vulnerability, family reunification, and specific protection needs, ensuring that those most in need are prioritized for resettlement.

To facilitate the resettlement process, the UNHCR works closely with the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). This coordination ensures that refugees are effectively considered for resettlement in the United States, streamlining the process and improving efficiency.

In addition to these roles, the UNHCR provides ongoing protection and assistance to refugees while they await resettlement. This support includes access to shelter, healthcare, and legal aid, ensuring that refugees’ basic needs are met and that they are prepared for their eventual relocation.

 

Section E: Legal Assistance and Resources

 

Professional advice and representation can significantly increase the chances of a successful asylum claim, as the process involves complex legal requirements and substantial evidence.

Legal advisers can help applicants understand the specific legal criteria they must meet and the compelling evidence of persecution they need to provide. This understanding is essential for building a strong case for asylum.

Legal representatives also play a crucial role in the preparation and submission of applications. They assist in accurately completing and submitting Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) along with other necessary documents. This ensures that all paperwork is properly filled out and submitted in a timely manner.

Gathering and presenting evidence is another area where legal support is invaluable. Lawyers help collect relevant evidence, including personal statements, affidavits, country condition reports, and expert testimonies, to bolster the asylum claim. This comprehensive collection of evidence can significantly enhance the chances of a successful application.

During interviews with USCIS asylum officers and hearings before immigration judges, legal representatives advocate on behalf of asylum seekers. They ensure that the applicants’ rights are protected and that their case is presented effectively. This representation is crucial for navigating the complex legal environment and for making a compelling case.

If an asylum application is denied, legal representatives can assist with filing appeals and navigating the complex appeals process. This support is vital for asylum seekers, as the appeals process can be particularly daunting without professional legal guidance.

 

1. Non-Profit Organizations

 

Many non-profit organizations offer free or low-cost legal services to asylum seekers. Examples include:

 

a. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): Provides resources and referrals to immigration lawyers.

b. The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES): Offers legal representation and support services.

c. Human Rights First: Provides pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers.

 

2. Non-Governmental Organizations

 

NGOs play a critical role in supporting asylum seekers by providing legal aid, counseling, and other essential services. Examples include:

 

a. International Rescue Committee (IRC): Offers legal assistance and resettlement services.

b.Asylum Access: Provides legal information and representation to refugees and asylum seekers.

c. Church World Service (CWS): Offers legal services and community support for asylum seekers.

 

3. Community Organizations

 

Local community organizations and immigrant advocacy groups often provide legal aid, translation services, and support networks for asylum seekers. Examples include:

 

a. Catholic Charities: Provides legal services and humanitarian assistance.

b. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS): Offers legal representation and resettlement support.

c. Neighborhood-based immigrant support groups: Often provide localized assistance and resources.

 

4. US Government Agencies

 

A number of US government organizations are involved in governing and administering the asylum and refugee system:

 

a. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for processing asylum applications, conducting asylum interviews, and making initial decisions on asylum claims. They manage the intake and adjudication of Form I-589 and other related processes.

 

b. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) oversees the enforcement of immigration laws and is involved in the detention and removal of individuals who are in the United States without authorization. In the context of asylum, ICE may detain asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision or court hearing.

 

c. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is part of the Department of Justice and includes immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Immigration judges within EOIR conduct hearings and make decisions on asylum claims referred by USCIS or involving individuals in removal proceedings.

 

d. Department of State (DOS), through its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), plays a role in the refugee resettlement process and provides country condition information that can support asylum claims.

 

Section F: Challenges and Barriers

 

Asylum seekers face a myriad of challenges and barriers through the process of seeking protection in the United States – from legal, social, and economic difficulties.

 

1. Legal Challenges

 

Asylum seekers face numerous legal challenges, beginning with the complexity of US immigration law. This body of law is intricate, and without proper legal representation, asylum seekers often struggle to understand and meet the stringent legal requirements. Navigating these complexities is essential for building a strong asylum case, but the lack of understanding can significantly hinder the process.

Another significant challenge is the limited access to legal representation. Many asylum seekers cannot afford legal services, and finding pro bono legal assistance can be difficult. Without legal support, navigating the asylum process becomes exceedingly challenging, as legal representation is crucial for accurately completing applications, gathering evidence, and presenting cases effectively.

Additionally, detention poses a major obstacle for asylum seekers. Many are detained while their cases are being processed, which severely limits their ability to gather necessary evidence, communicate with legal representatives, and access critical resources. Detention not only imposes physical and psychological stress but also complicates the already challenging task of seeking asylum.

 

2. Social Challenges

 

Asylum seekers face significant social challenges, beginning with cultural adjustment. Adapting to a new culture and environment can be overwhelming, particularly for individuals who have endured trauma and persecution. The process of acclimating to different social norms, languages, and lifestyles adds an extra layer of difficulty to their already challenging circumstances.

Social isolation is another profound challenge for asylum seekers. Many experience separation from their family and community networks, which can have detrimental effects on their mental and emotional well-being. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, making it harder for them to navigate their new lives and pursue their asylum cases effectively.

Stigma and discrimination further compound the difficulties faced by asylum seekers. They may encounter prejudice based on their immigration status, ethnicity, or background, which can hinder their ability to integrate into society. This discrimination can manifest in various aspects of daily life, from employment to social interactions, and can create additional barriers to achieving stability and acceptance in their new communities.

 

3. Economic Challenges

 

Asylum seekers encounter numerous economic challenges that significantly impact their ability to achieve stability. One of the most pressing issues is employment restrictions. Often, asylum seekers face legal barriers that prevent them from working while their cases are pending. This inability to earn an income leads to financial instability, making it difficult to cover daily living expenses.

The lack of resources exacerbates this financial instability. Limited access to financial support means that asylum seekers struggle to meet their basic needs, including housing, healthcare, and education. This scarcity of resources creates a precarious living situation, where even fundamental necessities become hard to obtain.

Due to the lack of stable income, asylum seekers frequently find themselves dependent on support services provided by NGOs, community organizations, and charitable entities. While these services are crucial in providing immediate relief, long-term reliance on them underscores the economic vulnerabilities of asylum seekers. This dependency highlights the urgent need for policy changes that allow asylum seekers to work and support themselves more independently.

 

4. Language Barriers

 

Language barriers present significant challenges for asylum seekers. Many do not speak English fluently, which makes understanding legal documents, communicating effectively with legal representatives, and presenting their cases during interviews and hearings particularly difficult. This lack of fluency can lead to misunderstandings, mistakes in legal paperwork, and an inability to fully articulate the persecution they have faced.

Although translation services are available, they are not always easily accessible or adequate. This lack of reliable translation support further complicates the asylum process, as applicants may struggle to convey their experiences accurately and comprehensively. The limited access to effective translation services means that language barriers remain a significant hurdle, impeding asylum seekers’ ability to navigate the legal system successfully.

 

Section G: Impact of Asylum and Refugee Status

 

Gaining asylum or refugee status can profoundly transform the lives of those fleeing persecution, offering them safety, stability, and new opportunities. The impact of these protections extends beyond personal relief, as asylees and refugees contribute significantly to their host societies.

 

1. Impact of Asylum

 

Gaining asylum has profound positive effects on individuals’ lives. First and foremost, asylum offers immediate protection from persecution and violence, allowing individuals to live without fear for their lives. This newfound safety is a fundamental human right and a critical first step towards rebuilding their lives. It provides a secure environment where they can begin to recover from past traumas and envision a future free from the threats they fled.

Stability and legal status are additional significant benefits of gaining asylum or refugee status. With legal recognition and the right to stay in the United States, individuals can plan for the future, access essential services, and integrate into society. This stability is crucial for establishing a sense of normalcy and security, enabling asylees to focus on long-term goals rather than immediate survival.

Opportunities for growth are abundant for those granted asylum. Asylees and refugees can pursue education, employment, and personal development, leveraging their talents and skills in their new communities. Many achieve significant accomplishments, contributing positively to society and enhancing their own quality of life. This opportunity for personal and professional growth underscores the transformative impact of gaining asylum, allowing individuals to rebuild their lives with dignity and purpose.

 

2. Personal Stories

 

Amina’s Journey from Somalia

Amina, a young woman from Somalia, fled her home country after being targeted by militant groups for her activism in women’s education. Facing threats to her life, she sought asylum in the United States. With the help of a legal aid organization, Amina successfully obtained asylum and now works as a teacher, continuing her passion for education in a safe environment.

 

Carlos’ Escape from Venezuela

Carlos, a political dissident from Venezuela, was persecuted for his outspoken criticism of the government. Imprisoned and tortured, he managed to escape and reach the US border, where he applied for asylum. Granted protection, Carlos is now an active member of a non-profit organization that supports democratic movements in Latin America.

 

Leila’s Flight from Syria

Leila, a Syrian refugee, endured the horrors of civil war and lost her family in the conflict. She was resettled in the US through the refugee program. Today, Leila is a successful business owner, providing jobs and contributing to her local community while raising awareness about the plight of refugees.

 

3. Contributions of Refugees and Asylees to US Society

 

Refugees and asylees make substantial economic contributions to the United States. Through entrepreneurship, they create businesses that fill labor shortages and stimulate local economies. By paying taxes, they further support public services and infrastructure. An exemplary case is Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish refugee who founded Chobani, one of the most successful yogurt brands in the US, which employs thousands of people and has had a significant positive impact on the local economy.

In addition to their economic contributions, refugees and asylees enrich American culture with their diverse backgrounds and experiences. They bring unique perspectives, traditions, and innovations that enhance the cultural fabric of the nation. Events like World Refugee Day celebrations highlight these cultural contributions, showcasing the rich diversity and the positive impact that refugees have on American society.

Socially, refugees and asylees often engage in community service and advocacy. They help other immigrants and advocate for human rights, demonstrating resilience and determination that inspire and strengthen the communities they join. For example, Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee, now serves as a US Congresswoman, championing the rights of marginalized communities and bringing attention to important social issues.

Educational and professional achievements among refugees and asylees are notable. Many excel academically and contribute to advancements in various fields such as medicine, science, and technology. Their accomplishments demonstrate the significant potential for contributions when given the opportunity for a fresh start. These achievements not only benefit the individuals but also enrich the broader society, showcasing the immense value of providing opportunities for refugees and asylees.

 

Section H: Summary

 

Asylees and refugees contribute significantly to US society, enriching the cultural fabric, driving economic growth, and advocating for human rights.

The US asylum and refugee system offers a vital lifeline for individuals fleeing persecution and danger. However, the journey is fraught with challenges and barriers, from legal complexities and language difficulties to social and economic hardships. Yet, the impact of gaining asylum or refugee status is profound, offering safety, stability, and new opportunities.

A wealth of support and advice is available to those looking to make a US asylum or refugee application. Applicants should take advantage of these specialist services to give their applications the best chance of success.

 

Section I: Asylum FAQs

 

What is asylum?
Asylum is a form of protection granted to individuals in the United States who have suffered persecution or fear future persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Those granted asylum can remain in the US, work, and eventually apply for permanent residency and citizenship.

 

How does refugee status differ from asylum?
Refugee status is granted to individuals outside the United States who meet the criteria for persecution and apply through the US Refugee Admissions Program, often with the help of the UNHCR. Asylum is sought by individuals already present in the US or at a US port of entry.

 

What are the main criteria for qualifying for asylum?
To qualify for asylum, an individual must be physically present in the US, demonstrate past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and apply within one year of arrival, unless exceptional circumstances apply.

 

What documents are needed to apply for asylum?
Key documents include Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal), personal identification, evidence of persecution (such as police reports and medical records), supporting affidavits, and any relevant immigration documents.

 

How long does the asylum process take?
The asylum process timeline can vary. Generally, USCIS aims to make a decision within 180 days of filing the application, but delays are common. If referred to an immigration court, the process can take several months to years, depending on the court’s backlog.

 

Can asylum seekers work while their application is pending?
Asylum seekers can apply for work authorization if their asylum application has been pending for 150 days without a decision. They can then receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

 

What happens if my asylum application is denied?
If USCIS denies the application, the case is typically referred to an immigration court for further review. If the immigration judge also denies the application, the applicant may appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and, if necessary, to the federal courts.

 

What role does the UNHCR play in the refugee application process?
The UNHCR identifies and registers refugees, conducts Refugee Status Determination (RSD) interviews, and refers eligible refugees to resettlement programs like the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). They also provide ongoing protection and assistance to refugees awaiting resettlement.

 

Why is legal representation important in asylum cases?
Legal representation helps asylum seekers navigate the complex legal requirements, gather and present evidence, prepare and submit applications, and advocate on their behalf during interviews and hearings. This significantly increases the chances of a successful asylum claim.

 

What are some common challenges faced by asylum seekers?
Common challenges include legal complexities, language barriers, social isolation, cultural adjustment, economic hardships, employment restrictions, and limited access to legal representation and resources.

 

How do asylum seekers and refugees contribute to US society?
Asylum seekers and refugees contribute economically by starting businesses, filling labor shortages, and paying taxes. They enrich American culture with diverse perspectives and traditions, engage in community service and advocacy, and achieve significant educational and professional accomplishments.

 

Section J: Glossary

 

Asylum: A form of protection granted to individuals already in the United States who have fled persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Asylum Seeker: A person who has applied for asylum but has not yet received a decision. They are present in the US or at a US port of entry when they make their application.

Refugee: A person who is outside their home country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They apply for protection from abroad.

UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): An international organization responsible for the protection and support of refugees, stateless persons, and other displaced individuals. It conducts Refugee Status Determination and facilitates resettlement.

USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services): A government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States, including the processing of asylum applications and other immigration benefits.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement): A federal agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws, including the detention and deportation of individuals unlawfully present in the United States.

EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review): A Department of Justice agency that includes immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). It adjudicates immigration cases, including asylum claims.

Form I-589: The application form for asylum and withholding of removal in the United States.

Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP): Also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, it required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their US asylum claims were processed.

Safe Third Country Agreement: An agreement between the US and another country designating that country as a safe place for asylum seekers to seek protection, limiting their ability to apply for asylum in the US.

Expedited Removal: A process that allows for the quick deportation of individuals without a full immigration court hearing, often used for those apprehended at or near the border.

Employment Authorization Document (EAD): A document that grants non-citizens the right to work in the United States. Asylum seekers can apply for an EAD if their application has been pending for 150 days without a decision.

Persecution: Severe mistreatment or harm inflicted on an individual due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Refugee Status Determination (RSD): The process by which the UNHCR or another designated authority assesses whether an individual meets the criteria for refugee status.

Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA): The highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. It hears appeals from decisions made by immigration judges.

Country Condition Reports: Reports providing detailed information on the human rights situation in specific countries, used to support asylum claims by demonstrating conditions of persecution.

Withholding of Removal: A protection granted to individuals who do not qualify for asylum but who are more likely than not to face persecution if returned to their home country. It prevents deportation but does not provide as many benefits as asylum.

Convention Against Torture (CAT): An international human rights treaty that aims to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Individuals can seek protection under CAT if they fear torture in their home country.

Pro Bono Legal Services: Free legal services provided by lawyers and legal aid organizations to individuals who cannot afford to pay for representation.

Humanitarian Approach: Policies and practices that prioritize the dignity, rights, and well-being of individuals seeking protection, focusing on compassion and fairness in the asylum process.

 

Section K: Advice and Support

 

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-and-asylum/asylum
USCIS is the primary government agency responsible for overseeing lawful immigration to the United States, including processing asylum applications. The USCIS website offers comprehensive information on the asylum process, eligibility criteria, and application procedures.

 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/
The UNHCR provides crucial support and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers globally. In the US, the UNHCR collaborates with various organizations to assist individuals in need of protection. Their website offers information on the refugee status determination process and resettlement programs.

 

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
https://www.raicestexas.org/
RAICES is a non-profit organization that offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and asylum seekers. They provide legal representation, community support, and advocacy to help individuals navigate the complex immigration system.

 

International Rescue Committee (IRC)
https://www.rescue.org/
The IRC is a leading humanitarian organization that provides emergency aid, resettlement assistance, and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers. In the US, the IRC helps individuals integrate into their new communities, offering services such as legal assistance, employment support, and education programs.

 

Human Rights First
 https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/
Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that provides pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers. They work to ensure that individuals fleeing persecution have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures. Their website offers resources and information on asylum law and policy.

 

Church World Service (CWS)
https://cwsglobal.org/
CWS is a faith-based organization that assists refugees and asylum seekers through resettlement programs, legal services, and community support. They offer various services, including help with legal documentation, housing, and employment.

 

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
https://www.aila.org/
AILA is a professional organization for immigration lawyers and legal professionals. They provide resources and referrals for individuals seeking legal assistance with immigration matters, including asylum cases. The AILA website offers a searchable directory of immigration attorneys and educational resources.

 

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
https://www.lirs.org/
LIRS provides support and advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, including resettlement services, legal assistance, and community integration programs. Their work focuses on helping individuals build new lives in the US.

 

Catholic Charities USA
https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org/
Catholic Charities offers a wide range of services to refugees and asylum seekers, including legal assistance, housing support, and educational programs. They operate through a network of local agencies across the United States.

 

 

Author

Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law, (The Legal 500, Who's Who Legal and AILA) and an experienced and trusted advisor to large multinational corporates through to SMEs. She provides strategic immigration advice and specialist application support to corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, actors and athletes from across the globe to meet their US-bound talent mobility needs.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals.

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.​

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.