U.S. law allows certain people who cannot or do not want to return to their home country because of past persecution or the danger of future persecution to live in the United States as refugees or asylees. However, the source or danger of persecution sometimes disappears after a refugee or asylee has already been granted status but before he or she has obtained U.S. citizenship. The question then becomes whether the person will be allowed to continue living in the U.S. under these changed circumstances.
For example, if you obtained asylum on grounds of political opinion because your home country’s government persecuted you as a member of the opposition, and your party has now come to power, then you might wonder whether the U.S. government could terminate your asylum on account of this change in your country’s conditions.
The answer will depend in key part on whether you are a refugee, on the one hand, or an asylee, on the other.
The main distinction between these two is that ordinary refugees apply for their status from outside the United States and resettle in the United States through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), while asylees are a special type of refugee who apply for their status directly from within the U.S. (or from a U.S. border). Because of this difference, asylees and ordinary refugees get treated differently under U.S. immigration law.
If you are a refugee, then you are unlikely to lose your status in the United States on the basis of improved conditions in your country, such as a new government, a newly signed peace treaty with a rebel group, or a new law protecting people who were being persecuted for the same reasons you were. However, loss of status is more of a possible concern if you are an asylee.
Why Refugees Cannot Lose Status Based on Improved Country Conditions
If you entered the United States as a refugee (through USRAP), you will probably not be sent back if and when conditions in your home country improve or change after you resettle in the United States.
That is because the law does not require that you continue to meet the definition of a refugee in order to keep your status as a refugee. The only exception to this rule would be if you did not meet that definition in the first place.
The classic (but perhaps not the only) situation of someone not originally meeting the definition of a refugee is one in which the applicant lied or committed fraud. This could come to the U.S. government’s attention if, for example, the refugee’s subsequent travels to the home country suggest that he or she did not really experience past persecution there. It could also surface when the refugee later (one year or more after obtaining refugee status) applies for permanent residence (a green card).
In such a case, the refugee should at least receive a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stating its intent to terminate the status and giving 30 days in which to show (in an interview or in writing) why refugee status should not be terminated.
Circumstances in Which Asylees Could Lose Status Based on Improved Country Conditions
If you became a refugee only after you entered the United States (in other words, you received asylum in the United States), then you are at greater risk of losing your status on the basis of changed circumstances, including changed country conditions. That is because the law requires that you continue to meet the definition of a refugee in order to keep your status as an asylee.
However, even in such a case, the U.S. government will not rely solely on changed country conditions in deciding to terminate your status. You might still keep your status if, for example, the persecution for which you were granted asylum was especially severe.
In contrast, if conditions in your home country have improved significantly since you became an asylee, and you have voluntarily returned to your country or obtained a passport or other benefit from your country, then you are more likely to lose your status in the United States.
This information could come to the U.S. government’s attention, for example, when you request admission at a U.S. border or entry point upon your return. It could also surface when (one year or more after obtaining asylee status) you apply for permanent residence — although it is not currently USCIS policy to inquire systematically into changed conditions in that context.
In any case, your status would not be terminated out of the blue. You should expect to first receive either a letter informing you of USCIS’s intent to terminate your status (and giving you 30 days to show in an interview why your status should not be terminated), or a Notice to Appear in immigration court (an NTA) — depending on which of these two government agencies granted the asylum.
If You’re Worried That Changed Country Conditions Will Impact Your Status
Applying for permanent residence as soon as you are eligible is the first step toward reducing the likelihood and the impact of U.S. government inquiries into changed country conditions on your ability to live in the United States as a refugee or asylee.
Although this application may trigger a basic inquiry into your status, that inquiry is unlikely to focus on changed country conditions. Moreover, if the circumstances are already such that changed conditions could affect your asylum grant, then your status is likely to become only more vulnerable over time.
However, even after you have become a permanent resident, the issue of changed country conditions could surface if you subsequently find yourself in removal proceedings (on other grounds, such as having committed a serious crime) or if you travel back to your home country. Therefore, the surest way to permanently avoid the impact of changed country conditions would be to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
Given the complexity of these considerations, you might consider seeking the advice of a lawyer regarding the details of your case.