Filling Out Form I-589 Application for Asylum

Line-by-line instructions on how to fill out Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal.

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If you are applying for asylum in the U.S., you will need to submit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-589 with any needed supplements and plenty of supporting documentation. The following article will provide line-by-line instructions for completing the form. For more information about the application process, see the section of Nolo’s website on “Applying for Asylum and Refugee Status.”

Form I-589 and instructions are available on the I-589 page of the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov).

Tips for Filling Out Your I-589

Here are some things to keep in mind as you fill out the form.

  • Deal appropriately with inapplicable questions. If a question on Form I-589 doesn’t apply to you, (for example, you don’t have a U.S. Social Security number) write “none,” “N/A” (not applicable), or “unknown” rather than leaving the space blank.
  • Be honest. If you lie in your application, you may be found permanently inadmissible to the U.S. in the future. In addition, if USCIS finds that you have filed a “frivolous” asylum application (that is, you knowingly fabricated information in your application), you may be ineligible for any other U.S. immigration benefit in the future. 
  • Be consistent with your previous immigration applications. Make sure that the information on your asylum application matches that of any other form you have submitted to USCIS or another immigration authority. If you find any errors on your previous applications, be prepared to explain the discrepancy and provide evidence of what’s actually true if necessary.
  • If you can't remember a specific date, you can enter your best guess. Then do your best to find documents that support the date you put forth, and explain the situation in Supplement B (described next.) 
  • Use extra pages if need be. Don’t feel compelled to explain your entire situation in the space provided on Form I-589. The last page of Form I-589 is “Supplement B, Form I-589.” Make extra copies of this page for any question for which you need more space to complete your answer. Fill it out completely and attach it to the application and write “See Supplement B, Form I-589” in the original space on the form.
  • Seek the assistance of an attorney or accredited representative. Preparing a successful application for asylum is not an easy task, and pro bono (no-cost) help is available from a variety of nonprofit organizations. Make sure you consult with someone with experience in asylum law.

Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-589

Here is some helpful line-by-line advice for completing Form I-589. When the answer to the question should be obvious, we will skip it in this discussion.

“NOTE: Check this box if you also want to apply for withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture”: You should check this box at the top of page 1 of the I-589 if you can provide evidence that you may be tortured if returned to your country of origin. Make sure to also check the “Torture Convention” box on Page 5, Part B, Question 1. You will need to prove that it is more likely than not that you would be tortured if you were removed from the United States in order to receive extra protection on this basis. To learn more, see “How to Apply for Convention Against Torture Protection.”

Part A. I, “Information About You”: Most of this section is self-explanatory, but below we will discuss certain questions that may require further guidance.

Question 1. Alien number (A#). The A-number is an eight- or nine-digit number starting with an “A," which you are likely to have if you've submitted previous applications to USCIS or been in removal (deportation) proceedings.

Question 2. Social Security Number. If you have a valid Social Security Number, list that here; is not, say "None."

Questions 3-8. Your name, address, and other identifying information. If you used a false name to enter the U.S., now is the time to start using your real, legal name. If you do not have three names (first, middle, last), leave the space for that name blank -- otherwise, USCIS may think your name is "None!" If your mailing address and phone number are the same as your physical residence, write “Same as above” in the first line of the address and phone number questions. Do not leave these blank. The rest is self-explanatory.

Question 9. Gender. If you are transgender or your asylum claim involves matters of gender identity such that choosing either "Male" or "Female" is no simple matter, write an asterisk ("*") here and say, “See Supplement.” Then make sure to further explain this in your supplementary statement.

Question 10. Marital status. This refers to your legal status, not your current living situation. 

Question 11. Date of birth. If you aren't sure of your birth date (and aren't able to locate documents showing it), you can enter your best estimate or write "unknown." Then enter an asterisk and explain the situation in your Supplement .

Questions 12-13. Self-explanatory

Question 14. Nationality at Birth. You will need to write your birth country’s name here. If you are now a citizen of a different country than the one in which you were born, be prepared to answer questions about why you are unable or unwilling to return to your birth country (instead of the country for which you are applying for asylum) and provide evidence to back up your statements.

Question 15. Race, Ethnic or Tribal Group. If you are applying for asylum based on race, ethnicity, or tribal affiliation, enter the name of your group here. Make sure that the identifying name matches any evidence that you are attaching to prove your claim. If you need further space to explain, use Supplement B.

Question 16. Religion. If you are applying for asylum based on religion, make sure your answer here matches any evidence that you provide with your application and that you name the specific branch, sect, or denomination. For example, instead of "Jewish," an applicant persecuted on the basis of religion might say, "Orthodox Jewish." 

Question 17. Removal Proceedings. If you have ever been before an immigration judge or arrested by immigration or border patrol authorities, see an attorney for help with your asylum application. 

Question 18. Entry into the U.S. and visa. Be sure to answer this section completely and truthfully even if you entered without inspection or overstayed your visa. In most cases, immigration violations will not affect your case if they were due to an effort to escape persecution. (If in doubt, however, consult an attorney.) If you entered on an F-1 or J-1 visa, you probably didn't get an actual expiration date for your status (because you were allowed to stay in the U.S. until completing your studies), and should enter "D/S" for "duration of status."

Questions 19-21 Passport information. If you don't have a passport, enter "N/A" in every relevant space. If you used a false passport, you should still answer "N/A," but explain your entry on Supplement B. 

Questions 22-24. Language information. Your "native language" is the one you spoke at home. If you used another language at school or at work, enter that in Question 24. Do NOT say you are fluent in English unless you really are, and are willing to give up your right to bring an interpreter to your asylum interview (and have one supplied by the U.S. government if your case later proceeds to immigration court). 

Part A. II, “Information About Your Spouse and Children”

Your Spouse. If you are not married, check the applicable box. Otherwise, answer questions 1-24 completely. Unsure whether you are legally married? It's better to say that you are and then figure out the details later. That way, you help ensure that USCIS will grant asylum to your spouse if and when you are approved. Question 24 is an important one if your spouse is in the U.S. -- it asks whether your spouse wishes to be "included" in the application. This literally means that if you are granted asylum in the U.S., so will your spouse be -- but if your case is referred to immigration court, your spouse will also end up in removal proceedings. If your spouse doesn't wish to take this risk, you can check "no" to Question 24 and file an I-730 for your spouse after your asylum approval.

Your Children. If you have children, answer questions 1-21 completely, even if your children are now adults. (But do not include the names of any who are deceased.) If you have more than four children, you will need to attach “Supplement A, Form I-589” to provide information about all of your children. As with your spouse, you will need to decide whether to formally "include' them in your asylum application. You can say "No" and file an I-730 for them after you receive approval. 

Part A. III, “Information About Your Background”

Question 1. Foreign Address. List your last address before coming to the United States. If this country is other than the one from which you fear persecution, provide your last address from your country of origin as well. (For example, if you lived in France for a month before coming to the U.S., provide that address, as well as the address of your last residence in your home country.)

Question 2. Residences for the Past 5 Years. Self-explanatory.

Questions 3-4. Education and Employment. Self-explanatory.

Question 5. Parents and Siblings. Self-explanatory.

Part B. “Information About Your Application”

In this section, you will be asked questions that will be used to determine whether you are eligible for asylum. You should provide as much information as possible, recounting specific events whenever possible and providing dates, names, and locations. It can often be difficult to recount instances of past persecution, but you will need to do so here in order to submit a credible and successful asylum application. Be aware that it is not necessary that you give the “right” answer to every question in this section to be approved for asylum, so you should provide only truthful information in your answers.

Question 1. Basis for Asylum. You must check at least one of first five boxes in order to be eligible for asylum. By all means check more than one category if you believe it applies to your situation. If you are also applying for Withholding of Removal under the Convention Against Torture, also check “Torture Convention.”

Question 1.A. Instances or Threats of Harm or Mistreatment. If you, your family members, or your close friends and colleagues have experienced harm or mistreatment (or threats) due to the basis for asylum that you are applying for and from the country that you fear returning to, check “yes.” Explain any specific instances of harm or mistreatment, and note when these happened and who caused the harm (or threatened harm). If you can include recent events or harm caused by government actors, along with evidence that these events occurred, it will strengthen your asylum application.

You should also state that you believe that the harm or mistreatment occurred due to the basis for asylum for which you are applying and if the harm or mistreatment was caused by a non-government actor, explain that the government was unable or willing to protect you from this harm. If possible, any family members or friends whom you name should provide affidavits attesting to the facts that you provide.

Question 1.B. Fear of Harm or Mistreatment Upon Return. You must check “yes” here to be eligible for asylum (unless you fall into a rare exception, but don't even consider this without an attorney's guidance). Explain why you fear harm and who you believe would subject you to this mistreatment. The same guidance for the above question applies here.

Question 2. Foreign Criminal History. The purpose of this question is twofold. USCIS wants to learn about any criminal history outside of the United States. However, this may also be your chance to explain instances where you or your family members were falsely accused, detained, interrogated, or imprisoned in connection with your basis for asylum (for example, race or religion), in which case the arrests, imprisonment, and so on would be considered “persecution” for the purposes of asylum. If this applies to you, provide as much information as possible, including records of your arrest, court proceedings, or imprisonment and why you believe you (or your family members) were targeted. If your arrest or prosecution had nothing to do with your persecution, however, do not submit an asylum application without speaking to an attorney first -- serious nonpolitical crimes are a bar to asylum.

Question 3.A. Membership in Groups and Organizations. This is another dual-purpose question, which will determine whether you have been a member of a group that has persecuted others or been involved in terrorism (which are bars to asylum). If so, consult an attorney before considering filing for asylum. But this is also your chance to show that you are a highly visible participant in political, religious, activist, or media-related activities. If you are a member of organizations that have been targeted by the government (or other actors that the government is unwilling or unable to control) list those groups here, as well the extent of your activities in this group and any leadership positions you held. For example, “I was the president of a student activist group that protested the government and was later interrogated.”

Question 3.B. Continued Membership. If you or your family members continue to be involved in the groups that you listed in the previous question, check “yes” and provide an explanation and evidence. Continued membership can show that you are so dedicated to these organizations that you cannot simply leave or quit them in order to avoid persecution and may thus strengthen your case for asylum.

Question 4. Torture. Do not answer “yes” here if you do not truly believe you could be tortured upon return to your home country. However, if you are applying for withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture, you will need to answer “yes” to this question and provide a convincing explanation.

Part C. “Additional Information About Your Application”

Question 1. Previous Requests for Asylum. This question could help or hurt you, depending on the outcome of your or your family members’ applications for asylum. You can reapply for asylum if a change in your circumstances materially affects your eligibility. If, however, you were denied for a reason such as fraud or criminal history, reapplying is not likely to help you gain approval. If your family members were successful in obtaining asylum because of a situation that is similar to yours, it could strengthen your case by showing that an asylum officer or immigration judge granted their request for asylum.

Questions 2.A-2.B. Prior Foreign Travel or Residence. USCIS wants to know if you could return to a third country (other than the U.S. and your country of origin) where you would not be persecuted -- that is, whether you were "firmly resettled" elsewhere. For this reason, it wants to know if you or your family members traveled through, lived in, or applied for or received an immigration benefit in a third country. If you check “yes” to either question, discuss your length of stay and why you left that country. Also explain why you didn’t apply for asylum there (for example, “I did not need to apply for asylum when I traveled to France, but I need asylum protection now due to changed circumstances in my home country”). If you did apply for asylum or refugee status in this third country, explain the outcome of your case, and be prepared to answer questions about this in your asylum interview or individual hearing.

Question 3. Participant in Persecution. You will be ineligible for asylum if you were involved in activity that is considered “persecution.” If you need to answer “yes” here, you will have to provide very good reasons why you participated in these activities. For example, “In my village, all men over age 16 were forced to join guerilla or paramilitary forces or else their family members would be killed.” Provide evidence to back up your explanation (for example, articles and reports from human rights watchdog groups).

Question 4. Return to Home Country. If you left your home country and then later returned, you will need to check “yes” here and give the details of these trips, including dates, reasons for travel, and length of time you remained there. If you had the opportunity to apply for asylum in another country at an earlier date and you did not do so, USCIS might determine that you did not truly fear persecution. Explain any changed circumstances since the date you returned to your home country or extenuating circumstances about why you needed to return (for example, “I returned because my father was seriously ill and I needed to make sure that he was receiving adequate medical care”). If your reasons are not convincing, USCIS may decide, based on your actions, that you don't truly fear returning to your home country. 

Question 5. One-Year Filing Requirement. You must file your application for asylum within one year of arriving in the U.S. or one year after the expiration of your legal status (if applying defensively) unless you can prove “extraordinary circumstances” that led to the delay in filing. If you must file after the one-year deadline, seek the assistance of an experienced attorney, as you will need to provide additional evidence with your application. Some examples of “extraordinary circumstances” include illness and changed circumstances in your home country (for example, you now fear persecution because of a change in ruling party).

Question 6. U.S. Criminal History. USCIS wants to know that you have been a law-abiding person during your stay in the United States. If you (or any family members included in your application) have ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime in the U.S., you need to provide details and documentation with your application. (And see an attorney.)

Part D. “Your Signature”: Print your name in English and in your native alphabet. If your spouse, parent, or child helped you to complete the form, check “yes” and provide his or her information. If another person helped you to prepare the firm, check “yes” and make sure that person completes Part E. In the application instructions, you are advised of your right to counsel and given information on where to find low- or no-cost attorneys and organizations that can assist you with your asylum application; and Form I-589 asks you to confirm whether you received this information.

Part E. “Declaration of Person Preparing Form if Other Than the Applicant, Spouse, Parent or Child”: If an attorney, nonprofit organization employee, or another individual prepared Form I-589, he or she should complete this section.

Part F. “To Be Completed at the Asylum Interview, if Applicable”: DO NOT COMPLETE THIS SECTION. If you are filing an affirmative asylum application (you are not in removal proceedings), you will be scheduled to attend an asylum interview at a nearby USCIS office where you will be asked to sign this section.

Part G. “To Be Completed at the Removal Hearing, if Applicable”: DO NOT COMPLETE THIS SECTION. If you are in removal proceedings and filing a defensive asylum application or you are later placed into removal proceedings, you will be asked to complete this section in immigration court.

After you have completed the application, make a copy for your files. Where you will send your application and supporting information will depend on whether you are in removal proceedings or not and in which state you live. Consult the instructions on the USCIS I-589 page.

You will need to submit documentation with your asylum application. For a checklist and other helpful information on how to submit foreign language documents, see “How to Prepare an Affirmative Asylum Application.”

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