If you are fleeing persecution in your home country and applying for asylum in the U.S., you will need to submit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-589, along 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 rest of the application process, see the section of Nolo's website on Applying for Asylum Status.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you fill out the I-589 form to apply for asylum.
Here is some helpful line-by-line advice for completing Form I-589. This refers to the version of the form published 03/01/2023. When the answer to a question should be obvious, we will skip it in this discussion.
Near the top, you'll see: "NOTE: Check this box if you also want to apply for withholding of removal under the Convention Against Torture." That means you should put an x in the box if you can provide evidence that you would be tortured if returned to your country of origin.
Make sure to also check the "Torture Convention" box later, in 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 about why this is an important backup, see Which Should I Apply for: Asylum, Withholding of Removal, and/or Protection Under Convention Against Torture? and 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 might require further guidance.
Question 1. Alien Registration Number (A#). The A-number is an eight- or nine-digit number starting with an "A," which you are likely to have only if you've submitted certain previous applications to USCIS, such as for a work permit if you were here as an F-1 student, or been in removal (deportation) proceedings.
Question 2. Social Security Number. If you have a valid number from the Social Security Administration, list that here.
Question 3. Chances are slim that you have a USCIS Online Account Number; it's only for people who have registered to submit certain types of applications to USCIS online. Leave this blank if you don't have one.
Questions 4-9. Your name, address, and other identifying information. If you used a false name to enter the United States, 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 whichever name it is blank—do not write "None" or USCIS might think your actual 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 10. Gender. If you are transgender, you may check the box that aligns most closely with your current gender identity. If choosing either "Male" or "Female" is no simple matter, you can also write an asterisk (a "*") here and say, "See Supplement." Then make sure to further explain this in your supplementary statement, particularly if it's part of the basis of your asylum claim.
Question 11. Marital status. This refers to your legal status, not your current living situation. In other words, if you're living with someone, you're still considered "single."
Question 12. Date of birth. If you aren't sure of your birth date (and can't locate documents showing it), you can enter your best estimate or write "unknown." Then enter an asterisk and explain the situation in Supplement B to the form or any separate supplement you prepare.
Questions 13-14. Self-explanatory questions about your birth.
Question 15. 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 16. 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 17. 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 18. Immigration Court Proceedings. If you have ever been before an immigration judge in removal proceedings or been arrested by U.S. immigration or border patrol authorities, see an attorney for help with your asylum application. You might not be eligible to File I-589 except via the immigration court, while in proceedings.
Question 19. Entry into the United States and visa. Answer this section completely and truthfully even if you entered the country without inspection by port of border officials, or you overstayed your permitted time under a visa. In most cases, immigration violations will not affect your asylum 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 student or J-1 exchange visitor visa, you probably didn't get an actual expiration date for your status (because you were allowed to stay in the United States until completing your studies), and should enter "D/S" for "duration of status." For your I-94 number, check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Questions 20-22 Passport information. If you don't have a passport, enter "N/A" (not applicable) in every relevant space. If you used a false passport, you should still answer "N/A," but explain your entry on Supplement B.
Questions 23-25. Your "native language" is the one you spoke at home. If you used another language at school or at work, enter that in Question 25. Do NOT say you are fluent in English unless you really are, and are willing to give up your right to have an interpreter at your asylum interview.
Part A.II, "Information About Your Spouse and Children"
Your spouse. If you are not married, check the applicable box and skip ahead. 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 grants asylum to your spouse if and when you are approved. Question 24 is an important one if your spouse is in the United States—it asks whether your spouse wishes to be "included" in the application. This literally means that if you are granted asylum, so will your spouse be. If, however, your case is referred to immigration court, your spouse will also end up in removal proceedings and could be deported along with you. If your spouse doesn't wish to take this risk, you can check "no" to Question 24 and file a Form I-730 for your spouse after your asylum approval.
Your children. If you don't have children, check the box at the beginning of this section. If you do have children, answer questions 1-21 for each child completely, even if your children are now adults. (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 a Form I-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition for them after you receive approval.
Part A.III, Information About Your Background
Question 1. List your most recent 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. Your residences for the past five years. Self-explanatory.
Questions 3-4. Your education and employment. Self-explanatory; though if you haven't been working, you can enter something like "student" or "at-home caregiver."
Question 5. Parents and siblings (brothers and sisters). Self-explanatory.
Part B. Information About Your Application
In this section, you will be asked questions that will be used to help determine whether you are eligible for asylum. Provide as much information as possible, recounting specific events whenever possible and providing dates, names, and locations. It can often be difficult to reveal and remember instances of past persecution, but you will need to do so here in order to submit a credible and successful asylum application.
Question 1. This asks about your basis for seeking asylum. You must check at least one of first five boxes in order to be eligible. By all means check more than one if you believe the category applies to your situation. If you are also applying for Withholding of Removal under the Convention Against Torture, check "Torture Convention."
Question A.1-4 Here, you're asked about 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 under (one of the "five grounds") and from the country that you fear returning to, check "yes." Explain any specific instances of harm or mistreatment (realizing that you will have to match the legal definition of "persecution"), 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 B.1-3. This asks whether you fear harm or mistreatment upon return to your home country. 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. The purpose of this question regarding whether you or members of your family have been accused, arrested, or sentenced (and so on) in another country is twofold. USCIS wants to learn about any criminal history outside of the United States. However, this might 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, due to your race or religion), in which case the arrests, imprisonment, and so on would be considered "persecution" for purposes of asylum. If this is true of 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. This asks about your membership in groups and organizations. It's 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 (also 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 your government (or by 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, you might say, "I was the president of a student activist group that protested the government and was later interrogated because of this."
Question 3.B. 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, which could thus strengthen your case for asylum.
Question 4. This asks about your fear of torture. Do not answer "yes" here if you do not truly believe you could be tortured upon return to your home country. (It is not a requirement for asylum.) 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. This question asks about any previous requests for asylum, refugee status, or withholding of removal you might have made. Your answer could help or hurt you, depending on the outcome of your or your family members' applications for asylum. It's okay if you're reapplying for asylum after a change in your circumstances materially affected your eligibility. If, however, you were previously denied asylum 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 to show that an asylum officer or immigration judge granted their request for asylum.
Questions 2.A and 2.B. These ask about your 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 whether 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 submit an application 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. If you were offered permanent residence in that other country but refused, you will not be eligible for U.S. asylum.
Question 3. You will be ineligible for asylum if you were involved in carrying out activity that is considered "persecution." If you need to answer "yes" here, you will have to provide solid reasons why you participated in these activities. For example, "In my village, all men over age 16 were forced to join guerrilla 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. 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 could decide, based on your actions, that you don't truly fear returning to your home country.
Question 5. 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, in court) 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. 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 United States, you need to provide details and documentation with your application. (And absolutely see an immigration attorney, preferably at the same time that you are being represented by a criminal attorney. Some criminal attorneys don't realize the affect that pleading guilty to something can have in immigration terms, since they're focused on keeping their clients' jail time to a minimum.)
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 their 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 (an attorney) 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, they should complete this section.
Part F. To Be Completed at the Asylum Interview, if Applicable: DO NOT FILL IN 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 Asylum Office where you will be asked to sign this section.
Part G. To Be Completed at the Removal Hearing, if Applicable: DO NOT FILL IN THIS SECTION. If you are in removal proceedings and filing a defensive asylum application now, or if you are later placed into removal proceedings, you will be asked to complete this section in immigration court.
The Form I-589 also has two Supplements. Supplement A allows you to name more family members. Supplement B has space for anything else that didn't fit on the main form. (Or, you can submit a separate statement that you prepare; just make sure to put your name and other identifying information on it, in case it gets separated from the main form.)
After you have completed the application, make a copy for your files. Where you will submit 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 USCIS's I-589 page.
Online filing became an option for applicants who are NOT in removal proceedings in 2022. To use it, you will need to create a MyUSCIS account, then choose "File a form online" and, in the dropdown menu, select "I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal."
The form itself is not the end of the process, however. You will need to submit documentation with your asylum application, to prove your identity, the nature of your persecution, and more. For a checklist and other helpful information on how to submit foreign language documents, see How to Prepare an Affirmative Asylum Application.
There is currently no fee for filing a Form I-589.
An experienced immigration attorney can be hugely helpful in gathering supporting documents from independent sources, linking you up with medical professionals, evaluating the strength of your asylum claim, drafting affidavits, preparing witnesses, and accompanying you to in-person interviews or immigration court hearings. Even if you're low income, you might be able to find professional help. See, for example, How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.