How To Ask For Asylum
Author: asylum lawyer Alena Shautsova
Asylum is a status that is given to a person who cannot or is not willing to return to his/her country. Asylum law in most countries is defined by the International Convention on Refugees that was adopted by many countries, some with reservations. There are just a couple of countries which are not parties to the Convention (Saudi Arabia, for example)… It means that most countries have to abide by the Convention’s norms and promote regulations to implement the Convention.
The Convention defines who is a refugee, a stateless person, a displaced person and outlines the basic protections that a receiving country should provide to people seeking asylum or refuge (access to courts, freedom of religion practice, freedom of association, etc.).
In most countries, the procedure of conveying an asylee or refugee status starts with a detailed application form. In some countries (Germany, for example, and to the extent Canada), a person who is seeking asylum is entitled to some benefits (pocket money in Germany, up to about $200 for example). Some countries (like the U.S.) do not provide any benefits to those who are applying for asylum, and even an employment authorization may be given only six months after the application has been pending. See asylum process in the US >>.
The U.S. asylum law is not defined by the Convention only, but also consists of regulations by USCIS, Board of Immigration Appeals opinions, and opinions by different courts. The U.S. is a Federation, and in each Federal circuits, the law may be applied a little different. It is crucial for certain asylum claims that involve disputable legal theories.
To ask for asylum in the U.S. one must be physically present in the U.S. or at the port of entry. Most people who ask for asylum at the port of entry will be detained. If a person is in the U.S., the detention is rare. The asylum seeker must submit form I-589, and supporting documents. The form has to be submitted with 2 copies and an extra copy of each dependent.
The most difficult part of the form is the one asking for asylum basis. An applicant must check off as many grounds as applicable, because if one of the grounds will be omitted and later an applicant would want to claim it he/she will likely have to submit a new form, missing the one year deadline for asylum claim.
In the US, the asylum process is confidential. Nobody can disclose the fact of asylum submission and its results. The U.S. government cannot alert the country an applicant is seeking asylum from about the application.
One who filed for asylum in Canada and was denied, is likely to be denied in the U.S. as well due to the special agreement between these countries. Also, a person who resides and firmly resettled in a safe country, will be denied asylum in the US, even if his/her own country is a dangerous place to return to. For example, a citizen of Spain, who is also a citizen of Ukraine, cannot successfully claim asylum from Ukraine in the U.S.
If one is outside the U.S. and would like to ask for a refugee status, he/she should do it through the U.S. Consulate. Most likely, however, consulate will direct such a person to the local UNHCR mission (a UN institution responsible for refugees and asylees’ issues).
The local United Nations’ NGOs and projects are usually good sources of information for those who would want to know more about the refugee and asylee procedures.
The U.S. does provide certain benefits to those who were able to prove their asylum claims. Such benefits are medical insurance, public assistance (food stamps), an employment authorization and travel authorization.