If you’ve won asylum in the United States, you’ll want to be able to prove your new status to others, such as to potential employers and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
However, you won’t receive a card or any convenient form of proof right away. The bureaucracy moves a bit slower than that, whether you successfully defended yourself from deportation in proceedings before the U.S. immigration court (formally the Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR) or you won asylum after filing an “affirmative” application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
While both procedures officially change your legal status in the U.S. to asylee or refugee, neither the immigration judge (IJ) who grants asylum in court nor the USCIS officer who grants your asylum application is responsible for processing all the relevant documents. Instead, this task will be handled by another department within USCIS after you notify it and follow the steps described in this article.
If you follow all the steps correctly, USCIS will eventually create two important documents for you:
If a USCIS officer interviewed you on your “affirmative” asylum application, you should be able to pick up your decision in person within two weeks of the interview. When you return to the asylum office, you’ll get a piece of paper at the check-in window, hopefully saying that your application was approved.
If the decision takes longer, USCIS will mail you the notice. Some decisions can take several months.
Assuming the government has completed your background checks (for identity, criminal history, and all that), you should still expect to wait up to six months for USCIS to mail the final approval notice containing your I-94 card stamped “asylum granted indefinitely.”
With the I-94, you can work legally without an EAD, but you may want to get one, anyway, because it’s a good form of ID and allows you to get an “unrestricted” Social Security card, which means it’s valid without DHS work authorization.
At your final merits hearing in the EOIR, the IJ will 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 under “EOIR” letterhead, will be followed by the reasoning of the IJ in granting your application. On the last page, under the section labeled “ORDER,” you will see that your application for asylum has been “APPROVED.” The IJ will then 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 IJ’s decision. In some cases, the IJ 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 intact for your records and as evidence of your asylum grant by the EOIR. You will need them in order to process your asylum documents.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attorney will also hand you instructions on how to schedule an INFOPASS appointment at your local USCIS office to get 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 (IJ’s) decision—granting you asylum.
How will you know whether the order is final? At the hearing, after reading the decision, the IJ will ask both sides if they wish to dispute the order granting you asylum. In response to the IJ’s question, the attorney representing the DHS may 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 IJ’s decision The IJ’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 most likely means that the agency plans to go through with filing 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 IJ’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 BIA) in 30 days.
After 33 days (three days after the 30 days following the IJ’s decision) without notice from the BIA, the IJ’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 IJ’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.
USCIS requests that you wait three business days after your asylum win in the EOIR has become final to schedule the appointment. This lets USCIS know that you are requesting asylum documents and gives DHS enough time to send a copy of your A-file to your local office. That way, USCIS can match your request to the EOIR grant on filebefore you show up at the appointment.
When you arrive, USCIS only needs to verify your identity, update your biographical information, and collect any remaining biometrics (fingerprints) before ordering your asylum documents.
You can schedule an appointment to visit a USCIS office in person using the USCIS INFOPASS system. On the USCIS homepage, click “Make an Appointment”) and enter your zip code to locate your nearest office. Provide your personal information and select an available date and time. A confirmation notice will appear on the screen. Print it out and bring it with you to the appointment.
If you don’t have a computer, you can ask to borrow a friend’s or go to a public library that has free Internet access. Your nearest USCIS office may also have personnel or kiosk machines available to help you schedule an appointment if you can’t use a computer.
If you need special accommodation, such as a wheelchair or assistance for a visual or hearing impairment, call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 (toll free) (TDD: 1-800-767-1833). Do this after making your INFOPASS appointment.
USCIS will require certain “supporting” documents showing that you qualify for the documents you are requesting. These may include:
You may 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 EAD if the one you have is still current. (Wait until it’s 90 days short of expiration, and then apply for the EAD by mail.)
Be prepared to provide biographical information (including your parents’ names) at the appointment. Remember to retrieve all your original documents before you leave the appointment.
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, EAD.
Unlike I-94s that have a departure date (which tourists and other temporary visitors to the U.S. receive), your stamped card proves that you can stay in the U.S. indefinitely. Because your asylum grant also allows you to work legally without a valid EAD, you can present this document verifying 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 IJ 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 EAD (Form I-766), is no longer necessary for asylees to present as work authorization, but is a good form of identification to have when you apply for a state-issued driver’s license or other identity cards. Your EAD will have a special code, like “A5,” printed on it, showing that you are an asylee and distinguishing you from other EAD holders. This is important because you will not have to renew your card or pay any more EAD-related fees.
Remember, however, that the I-94 and EAD for asylees do not allow you to travel outside the country and then reenter like a green card does. In order to be admitted to the U.S. again, you will have to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document at least 60 days before leaving the United States. (See Nolo’s article, “Applying for a Refugee Travel Document.”) Use your Refugee Travel Document (RTD) for travel instead of a passport for up to one year.
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.
Once you provide the USICS with the final order, current biometrics, and requested biographical information, the agency will mail you your I-94 card and EAD reflecting your asylee status, within approximately seven to 15 days after the INFOPASS appointment.