Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status

Find out who will be denied refugee or asylum protection even when they face real dangers.

Asylum and refugee status are special legal protections under U.S. immigration law, available to people who have left their home country for their own safety and are afraid to return. But these protections aren't automatic; people seeking asylum or refugee status must apply for it and convince the U.S. government of their need. Some people simply won't be able to show the U.S. government that they have a real fear of persecution. But there are others who really have been persecuted -- or have a good reason to fear future persecution -- but must be denied asylum anyway under established U.S. law. People who will be barred from obtaining asylum or refugee status include those who:

  • have assisted in the persecution of others
  • are threats to U.S. safety or security, or
  • are already "firmly resettled" in another country.

Let's take a closer look at these three categories.

Applicants Who Have Assisted in the Persecution of Others

The U.S. government will deny the application for refugee or asylum status of a person who has ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of any other person because of that person's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

For example, this rule has been used to deny refugee status to military or police officials who assisted in persecuting minority or guerilla groups -- even though these people may realistically fear for their life because members of these groups are seeking revenge against them.

Applicants Who Pose Threats to U.S. Safety or Security

No one who has been convicted of a "particularly serious crime" and is, therefore, a danger to the community of the United States will be granted asylum or refugee status.

No list of particularly serious crimes exists -- the decision is made case by case, depending on the facts surrounding the crime. However, all "aggravated felonies" are considered particularly serious crimes -- and because the immigration laws strictly define what is an aggravated felony, some crimes that may have been called misdemeanors at the time of prosecution will be looked upon as aggravated felonies when an application for asylum or refugee status is reviewed.

In addition, no person who has been convicted of a serious nonpolitical crime in a country outside the United States will be granted asylum or refugee status. However, people whose crimes were nonserious or political in nature may still qualify. If, for example, you were arrested for taking part in a protest or uprising, this may actually help, not hurt your asylum claim -- but consult with an experienced immigration attorney before you apply.

Finally (and not surprisingly), no person who has been involved in terrorist activity -- or who can reasonably be regarded as a threat to U.S. security -- will be granted asylum or refugee status.

Applicants Who Have Firmly Resettled in Another Country

A person who has fled his or her home country, but then become "firmly resettled" in another country will also be denied asylum or refugee status. This means that the person has applied for protection in the U.S. but has also:

  • been granted permanent residency or citizenship by another country
  • made permanent housing arrangements and traveled in and out of the adopted country, or
  • achieved economic independence because of education, employment, or the exercise of professional or business affairs in the adopted country.

You can use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find immigration attorneys in your local area to get help with your case.

Additional Resources

For more information on U.S. immigration laws, including asylum and refugee status, see Nolo's articles on "Asylum & Refugee Status" and the book U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).

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