After you receive your final approval of asylum, you can apply for certain immigration-related and other government benefits and services. These will help you and your family adjust to living in the Unites States. Be sure to act quickly, because some benefits are available only for a limited time after you are granted asylum.
Note that you are not yet eligible for asylee benefits if your asylum case is on appeal or if you received conditional or recommended approval.
Here, you will find guidance on what benefits might be available to you after you obtain asylum, and how to apply for them.
Making Sure Your Spouse and Unmarried Children Receive(d) Asylum
Once you have been granted asylum, your immediate family members (spouse and children) -- whether they are in the U.S. or outside -- are entitled to a “derivative” grant of asylum. If your spouse and children were included in your asylum application and are physically present in the U.S., they will have automatically received asylum at the same time as you.
If they are overseas, or were not included in your application, you can file USCIS Form I-730, “Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition” to obtain asylum for them. Use a separate form for each family member. For further information, see Nolo's article, "Filling Out Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition."
For your spouse to be eligible for asylum, the two of you must have been legally married (that is, with a government-issued certificate) before you were granted asylum. For your children to be eligible, they must be unmarried and younger than 21.
Obtaining Benefits Visa a Local Refugee Resettlement Agency
As soon as possible after obtaining asylum, you should contact a Refugee Resettlement Agency (RRA). The RRA should be able to help you adjust to living in the United States. RRAs may help you even if you are already working. Depending on the local agency, and on your individual circumstances (including your family size, income, and savings), RRAs might help you in some of the following ways:
- provide cash, housing, and/or living-expenses assistance
- help you apply for government benefits and services (such as an SS card, travel document, health care, and food stamps)
- enroll you in English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes
- offer job-training classes, counseling, and job placement services, and
- provide you with psychological counseling.
Be aware that some services have application deadlines. That is, you must apply for some programs offered to asylees within a certain time period (as few as 30 days after you were granted asylum) in order to be eligible. To find the closest RRA, visit http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr.
Also, some of the services you may be eligible for have expiration dates. Some benefits for which RRAs may help you apply are available only during the first seven years after you are granted asylum. These include: Supplemental Security Income (if you are disabled); food stamps; Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); and Medicaid (health care benefits). Once you get your green card or become a U.S. citizen, you might be able to extend your eligibility for certain public benefits.
Applying for a Social Security Card
Asylees are automatically eligible to work in the United States. You do not need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to do so. However, you should apply for a Social Security card, which employers will ask for, and which will enable you to apply for various public benefits. As an asylee, you are eligible for an “unrestricted” social security card, which does not place any limitations on your employment.
To obtain your SS card, go to your local SS Administration office. To find an office near you, call 1-800-772-1213. Bring original proof of your asylum grant, and proof of identity (such as a passport or state-issued ID card). Make sure to keep a receipt from the SS Administration that you had applied for a SS number to show other agencies when you apply for public benefits before you get your SS card.
You will receive your SS card in the mail within a few weeks. Double check that it does not have any restrictions written on it. If you do not receive it or if it has restrictions, return to the same SS office to inquire.
If you currently have a restricted SS number, you should go to the SS office and apply for an unrestricted SS card. Again, make sure to bring documentation proving that you were granted asylum.
Getting a Driver’s License or a State Identification Card
As an asylee, you may obtain an official identification (ID) card from the state where you live. Some states allow you to get a state ID card; others require that you obtain a driver’s license (which typically requires you to take a written, and a driving test).
Most states require that you have a Social Security (SS) number before issuing your ID card. If you already have a SS# assigned, bring proof of that to your local motor vehicles office.
One Year After Your Grant of Asylum: Applying for Your Green Card
After you have lived in the U.S. for one year since your grant of asylum, you can apply for a green card. In technical terms, this is called “adjusting” your status to “lawful permanent resident.”
For guidance on why it is important to apply for permanent residence as soon as possible, and what you need for a successful application, see “How to Apply for Permanent Residence as an Asylee.”
Traveling Abroad and Reentering the U.S.
In order to reenter the U.S. after temporary travel abroad, you will need a refugee travel document. You can obtain it by filing USCIS Form I-131, “Application for Travel Document.” It might take several months for you to receive it. Travel documents expire. So keep track, to make sure that your travel document will still be valid when you try to reenter the United States.
You should NOT go back to the country from which you are claiming persecution. If you do, the U.S. government may decide that you do not fear persecution there anymore, and take away your asylum status. Similarly, do not travel using a passport issued by the country from which you had claimed persecution.
Four Years After Obtaining Your Green Card: Applying for U.S. Citizenship
You may apply for U.S. citizenship (to "naturalize") four years after obtaining your green card. The procedure for this is to file Form N-400, “Application for Naturalization.”
Technically, you are eligible to apply for citizenship five years after you officially become a permanent resident. However, one year of your time as an asylee counts as if you already had a green card. This is known as “rollback.” Hence, your green card will specify your starting permanent residence date as one year before your residence application was actually approved.
For further guidance on naturalization, see "How to Become a U.S. Citizen."