You've been granted asylum status in the U.S.—now how do you demonstrate it to others? If you're a new asylee, you'll want to be able to prove your status to potential employers, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and so on. However, you won't receive a card or any convenient form of proof right away. This article will discuss what you will receive and when, whether you successfully:
Neither the immigration judge who grants asylum in court nor the USCIS officer who grants your asylum application is responsible for processing all the relevant documents. Instead, important portions of this task will be handled by another department within USCIS after you notify it and follow the appropriate steps, described below.
DHS issues two types of documents proving one's asylee status and ability to work: Form I-94, stamped "asylum granted indefinitely," and Form I-766, which is also called an "employment authorization document (EAD)" or a "work permit."
Unlike I-94s bearing a departure date (which tourists and other temporary visitors to the U.S. receive), asylees receive a stamped card proving that they can stay in the U.S. indefinitely. Because your asylum grant also allows you to work legally without a valid work permit, you can present this to verify your identity and work authorization to your employer or the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the first 30 to 90 days following your asylum grant.
When you present the SSA with your stamped I-94 or the original decision of the immigration judge granting you asylum in the EOIR, the agency will issue you an "unrestricted" Social Security card, which treats you as a permanent resident alien with permanent employment authorization. Apply for this card within 31 days of being granted asylum to be become enrolled in certain programs granting you government assistance, service, and benefits.
The second piece of documentation, the work permit or "employment authorization document" (Form I-766), is not necessary for asylees to present as work authorization, but is a good form of identification to have when applying for a state-issued driver's license or other identity card. Your work permit will have a special code, like "A5," printed on it, showing that you are an asylee and distinguishing you from other work permit holders.
If it's the USCIS asylum office that approves your asylum application, you should receive the work permit within 14 days of getting the approval notice and I-94. If it's an immigration judge who approves your asylum application, you will need to fill out and send Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to USCIS. After sending this form, it usually takes USCIS several months to send you your work permit. You can check USCIS processing times to see how long it is currently taking to issue work permits.
After a USCIS officer interviews you on your "affirmative" asylum application, the USCIS officer will tell you if you need to come back to the USCIS asylum office to get your decision or if the decision will be mailed to you. Some decisions can take several months.
If your asylum application is approved, you will receive an approval notice and your I-94 card stamped "asylum granted indefinitely." You are now living in the U.S. with "asylee" status.
With the I-94, you can apply for a Social Security number and work legally without a work permit. Most USCIS asylum offices will send your work permit shortly after your approval notice. If you have not received your work permit for 14 days after getting the approval notice, contact the USCIS asylum office listed on your approval notice.
At your final hearing in the immigration court, the immigration judge will likely read an "oral decision" and provide you with a written copy. Don't be surprised if that document is several pages long. The cover page, containing your name and alien (A)-number, will be followed by the reasons the immigration judge decided to grant your application.
On the last page, under the section labeled "ORDER," you will see that your application for asylum has been "APPROVED" or "GRANTED." The immigration judge will sign and date the order at the bottom of the page.
The "final order" is not only the last page with the order, but all the pages in the immigration judge's decision. In some cases, the immigration judge will issue another, shorter order, checking the "granted" box under the application name (I-589), as well as another section indicating whether the government has "reserved" appeal. Keep all the pages of the decision together for your records and as evidence of your asylum grant by the immigration court. You will need them in order to process your asylum documents.
Let's start by making sure you've received a final order—where the government has not reserved or filed an appeal of the immigration judge's decision—granting you asylum. At the hearing, after reading the decision, the immigration judge will ask you and the DHS attorney if either of you wishes to dispute the order granting you asylum. In response to the immigration judge's question, the attorney representing the DHS might say "yes" or "reserve" the right to appeal. Reserving appeal means, technically, that the DHS attorney wants some more time to think about it.
If the DHS does not reserve appeal, the agency "waives" or gives up its right to challenge the immigration judge's decision. The immigration judge's order is then "final," and you are eligible to receive asylum documents showing your change in status.
If the DHS attorney does reserve appeal at the end of the hearing, it means that the agency might file an appeal later on, though not necessarily. (Sometimes the DHS attorney forgets!)
If DHS does go through with an appeal, it has 30 days from the date of the hearing to turn in written arguments challenging the immigration judge's decision. You will know that DHS has failed to meet this deadline if you do not receive a dated receipt from the appellate court (Board of Immigration Appeals or B.I.A.) in 30 days.
After 33 days (three days after the 30 days following the immigration judge's decision) without notice from the B.I.A., the immigration judge's decision becomes final and you can proceed with the next steps to obtain your asylum documents.
For you, however, just the mention of "reserving" appeal at the hearing means that the immigration judge's order granting you asylum is not yet final. As such, your status as an asylee is on hold, and you will not be eligible to get documentation of your "asylee" status just yet.
In 2023, USCIS began a new policy of mailing I-94s to asylees who were approved in court. However, until they get this fully established, you might need to make an appointment (as was the norm before).
USCIS requests that people wait three business days after an asylum win in the immigration court has become final to schedule an appointment with them. To do so, you will call the USCIS Contact Center. Explain to the agent who (eventually) takes or returns your call that an immigration judge granted you asylum, and that you need either assurances that your I-94 is on the way or an appointment with your local USCIS field office to obtain your I-94.
You will need to have an email address so the USCIS agent can email you the appointment letter. Take the appointment letter, an identification document (if you have one), and the immigration judge's final order to the appointment.
Alternatively, you could try requesting an in-person appointment directly, via USCIS's online "My Appointment" portal. This is new as of late 2023, so it's impossible to assess whether it will be faster or more effective than going through the Contact Center, or what happens if you try both at once. Also, getting an appointment isn't guaranteed; the agency will evaluate your need after you submit the request.
When you arrive for your appointment, USCIS needs only to verify your identity, update your biographical information, and collect any remaining biometrics (fingerprints) before ordering your asylum documents. You will likely receive the I-94 on the same day you have your appointment.
You might also have to fill out Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, if you have not done so already. You do not, however, need to apply for another work permit if the one you have is still current. (Wait until it's six months short of expiration, and then apply to renew by mail.)
Be prepared to provide biographical information (including your parents' names) at the appointment. Remember to retrieve all your original documents before leaving to go home from the appointment.
Neither the I-94 nor the EAD for asylees allow travel outside the United States and then reentry in the manner that a green card does. In order to be allowed to enter the U.S. again after departing, you will have to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document with USCIS at least 60 days before leaving the United States. (See Applying for a Refugee Travel Document.) Use your Refugee Travel Document (RTD) for travel instead of a passport for up to one year. Do not let your RTD expire while you are outside of the United States.
Although you can use your RTD to travel to your home country, be aware that returning to the country where you faced past persecution indicates you no longer need protection within the United States. Accordingly, your grant of asylum could be terminated or looked into for fraud.
Even if you haven't used the services of an attorney up to this point, you could hire one if you're having any trouble dealing with the U.S. immigration bureaucracy and obtaining all the documents you need to prove your new status as an asylee in the United States. If you're low income, be sure to check into How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.