How to Apply for Permanent Residence (a Green Card) as an Asylee

All the forms, fees, documents, and other information you need to apply for a green card after one year as an asylee.

By , Associate Professor, Creighton University School of Law

If you have lived in the U.S. for one year since being granted asylum, you can apply for a green card and adjust your status to "lawful permanent resident" (LPR). If you were the primary applicant, and your spouse and children obtained derivative grants of asylum through you, they can also apply for green cards at this time—or even first, without waiting for you.

A derivative spouse might also be able to apply for LPR status after a divorce—with the help of an attorney, to file a separate application for asylum (USCIS Form I-589) and have it approved retroactively, or in legal jargon, "nunc pro tunc." Only after that nunc pro tunc application is approved can the divorced spouse of an asylee submit an adjustment of status application.

Here, we'll discuss when and how an asylee can successfully submit this application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and why it is important to apply for permanent residence as soon as possible.

When Will I Officially Reach One Year as an Asylee?

The one-year period is measured from the date when you got your final approval of asylum (for example, the date on your notification from the Asylum Office, or the date when an immigration judge before whom you appeared for a hearing signed the order granting you asylum).

Are There Good Reasons for Asylees to Go Through the Effort of Applying for a U.S. Green Card?

Although asylees are not required to apply for LPR status to continue to live and work in the United States, it is in their interest to do so as soon as they become eligible. This will allow them to obtain benefits that are not available to asylees. For starters, you must first obtain LPR status if you intend to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in the future.

Moreover, your asylee status (and your right to remain in the United States) is not an entirely secure one. It could be revoked (taken away) by the U.S. government if:

  • conditions change in your home country, so that you can safely return there (a change of ruling political party or a repressive law, or the end of a civil war, for example), or
  • you no longer qualify as an asylee (for example, your religious or political opinions have changed, so you would no longer be persecuted if you returned to the country from which you had claimed fear of persecution).

To Apply for a Green Card, You Must Continue to Qualify as an Asylee

When you apply for your green card, you must continue to meet the definition of an asylee (or continue to be the spouse or child of such asylee). USCIS might question whether you are still an asylee in certain circumstances. That is, you must still fear persecution from your home country on account of a protected ground. For a detailed discussion, see Asylum or Refugee Status: Who Is Eligible?.

To Apply for a Green Card, You Must Continue to Be Admissible to the United States

In addition to living in the U.S. for one year after you obtained asylum, you must continue to be "admissible" to the United States. The "inadmissibility" grounds include certain types of contagious diseases, criminal convictions, drug abuse, prior immigration law violations, and involvement in terrorism.

However, waivers of inadmissibility (legal forgiveness) are available in some instances. To apply for a waiver, you would file USCIS Form I-602, Application by Refugee for Waiver of Grounds of Excludability, along with your adjustment application. For more on inadmissibility and how to apply for a waiver, see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.

Note that U.S. immigration law automatically forgives certain violations of immigration laws for people granted asylum (violations which would make other types of applicants inadmissible). Important items on this list include having entered the United States illegally or with false documents. Also, the "public charge" inadmissibility ground does not apply to asylees. So, you can still get a green card if you have been receiving food stamps, free medical care, or other public benefits.

To Apply for a Green Card, You Must Not Have Abandoned Your Asylee Status or Firmly Resettled Elsewhere

Because you must show that you continue to need protection in the United States, you should not travel abroad for any significant amount of time after being granted asylum. You should absolutely avoid visiting your home country before you are granted LPR status. Otherwise, USCIS will assume that you do not need asylum protection anymore, since you freely returned to the country that supposedly persecuted you.

Also, if you have spent a significant portion of your time in asylee status in a third country, USCIS might consider you to have firmly resettled there. If you have received a grant of permanent residence, citizenship, or another residency benefit from a nation other than the United States or your country of origin, you will not qualify for a U.S. green card.

If you need to travel outside the U.S. before you have a green card, you must file Form-131, Application for Travel Document, before you leave the United States. To learn more, see If You Travel or Move While Awaiting Your Adjustment of Status Interview.

If you think that you might have issues with any of the requirements listed above, consult an immigration attorney.

What Documents Does an Asylee Need to Submit When Applying for a U.S. Green Card?

To apply for a U.S. green card, you must mail Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status, to USCIS along with the appropriate fees. Download this form for free from the I-485 page of the USCIS website. When filling in the answers, double check the information you provided on your asylum application (Form I-589). If you create any seeming inconsistences, USCIS could accuse you of lying, and strip you of immigration status.

You must include the following supporting documents with your I-485:

  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Exam and Vaccination Record (to show that you are not inadmissible on medical grounds, and have received all the needed and required vaccines; some waivers of health grounds are also available)
  • Evidence that you are an asylee: Copy of your Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record, your USCIS asylum approval notice, or a copy of the Immigration Judge's orders showing that you were granted asylum
  • Proof that you have been living in the United States for the last year (for example, copies of pay stubs from a U.S. employer, your home lease, utility bills, or receipts of government benefits), and
  • Two passport-style photographs.

You'll need to pay an application fee, the amount of which you'll find on USCIS's Fee Schedule.

Make sure that each document in a foreign language includes a complete translation into English, as described in Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications.

Also note that, unlike many other green-card applicants, asylees and refugees are not subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility (see Section 209(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.) and thus do not need a financial sponsor in the United States. So, you can leave Form I-864 and the Form I-944 | Declaration of Self-Sufficiency out of your adjustment of status application.

How an Asylee Can Apply for a Green Card for Family Members

Your spouse and children must have been in the United States for at least one year after they were granted derivative asylum before they can apply for green cards. That is, if you were granted asylum in January 2022, and your family arrived here as derivative asylees in January 2023, they will be eligible for their green cards in January 2024.

You must prepare a separate Form I-485 (with filing fee and supporting documents as listed above) for each family member. You may submit complete applications for several applicants in the same mailing package. In addition, you must submit:

  • copy of your marriage certificate (for your spouse), or birth certificate (for your child), and
  • evidence that you filed your adjustment application or that you already have your green card.

Or, your derivative family members can apply for green cards on their own, even if the primary asylee waits to do so. The important thing will be to include a copy of the asylum approval notice with the application.

What Will Happen After You File Your Green Card Application With USCIS

Some months after filing, you will receive a written notice to go to an Application Support Center for your biometrics appointment, where you will have your fingerprints, photograph, and signature taken. USCIS will run a background check on you using that information. For more information, see What to Expect at a Biometrics Appointment. You must go to your biometrics appointment and any interviews required by USCIS, or your application might be denied.

Most asylee adjustment applications do not require an in-person interview. Nevertheless, you might, some months later, be called in for one at your local USCIS office if there are questions regarding your application or your eligibility. If you are applying along with dependents (your spouse and/or children, who received asylum through your application) they are more likely to be called in for an interview.

If preparing for an interview, make sure to bring originals of all the documents submitted with your adjustment application and their official English translations. Also, bring a foreign language interpreter if you are not fluent in English.

Also realize that the interviewer might ask you about your original asylum claim. Read over your application again, to remind yourself of the details.

Soon after the interview, you will receive a written decision on your adjustment application.

Where to Go for More Help

More information about the adjustment of status process can be found at www.uscis.gov. You might also be interested in How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.

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