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.

If you have lived in the U.S. for one year since your grant of 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 a derivative grant of asylum through you, they can also apply for their green cards at this time—or even first, without waiting for you.

A derivative spouse might even be able to apply 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.

The one-year period is measured from the date when you got your final approval of asylum (for example, when an immigration judge signed the order granting you asylum). Here, you will find guidance on why it is important to apply for permanent residence as soon as possible and what is needed for a successful application.

WARNING: Coronavirus closures will slow down the application process. In response to the health risks presented by this global pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initially closed offices to outside visitors. Even after reopening, long delays remain, owing to the backlog. Also see Attending a USCIS Interview During COVID-19 Pandemic: What to Expect.

Good Reasons to Apply for a 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 your interest to apply for a green card as soon as you become eligible. Doing so will allow you to obtain benefits that you cannot get as an asylee.

For example, 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 U.S.) might be revoked (taken away by the U.S. government) if:

  • country conditions change in your home country, so that you can safely return there (a change of ruling political party, 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).

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). U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) might question whether you are still an asylee in certain circumstances. That is, you must fear persecution from your home country on account of a protected ground. For a detailed discussion, see Asylum or Refugee Status: Who Is Eligible?.

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 are available in some instances. You can apply for a waiver by filing 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 USCIS forgives certain violations of immigration laws for people granted asylum (violations which make other types of applicants inadmissible), such as entering the U.S. 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.

You Must Not Have Abandoned Your Asylee Status or Firmly Resettled Elsewhere

Because you must show that you continue to need protection in the U.S., 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.

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 U.S. or your country of origin, you will not qualify to apply 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 You Need to Apply for a Green Card

To apply for a 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.

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

  • Form I-693, Report of Medical Exam and Vaccination Record
  • 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 U.S. for the last year (for example, copies of pay stubs, home lease, utility bills, or receipts of government benefits), and
  • Two passport-style photographs.

And, 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 to Apply for a Green Card for Your Family Members

Your spouse and children must have been in the U.S. 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 2019, and your family arrived here as derivative asylees in January 2020, they will be eligible for their green cards in January 2021.

You must prepare a separate Form I-485 (with the filing fee and supporting documents 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 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

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 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.

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