How to Prepare an Affirmative Asylum Application

Details of how to prepare and submit Form I-589 and supporting documents in order to apply for asylum in the United States (so long as you are not in removal proceedings).

If you are physically present in the U.S. and not detained, and are interested in applying for asylum (per 8 U.S.C. § 1158), then the procedure is as follows.

First, you must first file Form I-589, "Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal" with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Form I-589 is the only form you'll need to file to apply for all of the following forms of relief: asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

You can download this form for free from the I-589 page of the USCIS website.

There is currently no fee for filing the I-589. However, USCIS plans to impose a $50 fee on applicants. This was supposed to take effect October 2, 2020, but federal court injunctions have put the fee on hold until further notice.

The information you provide in your asylum application will be confidential. Only the U.S. government will have access to it. It is important that you fill out your asylum application completely and truthfully. Include information that you actually remember, and if you are not sure about some details, state so.

There is a deadline: USCIS must receive your application within one year of your last entry into the United States. This can be tough to prove if you entered without inspection, for example by crossing the border illegally. Here are some tips for proving your date of entry.

Or, if you have maintained lawful immigration status in the U.S. (for example, you had a valid visa) during your entire stay here and up to the time when you file your asylum application, you can submit your asylum application at any time, even if more than a year has passed since you last entered the United States.

If you've missed the filing deadline, see Can I Still Apply for Asylum After the One-Year Filing Deadline? and possibly consult an attorney: Rare exceptions are made for changed conditions or where "extraordinary circumstances" led to the delay in filing.

Also realize that if you entered the U.S. unlawfully or overstayed a visa, you are at risk of arrest until you have submitted your asylum application. See What If ICE Arrests Me for Being Illegal Before I've Submitted My Asylum Application (Form I-589)? for details.

How to Fill Out the Asylum Application (Form I-589)

Before you fill out Form I-589, make sure to carefully read the USCIS instructions provided for Form I-589. Note that if you fail to answer even one question on the form, USCIS will send the entire application back to you to revise and resubmit. So, if no answer exists, or a question does not apply to you, simply type "N/A" ("not applicable") in the answer space for that question. Make sure not to leave any spaces blank.

When answering questions on Form I-589, be sure to provide sufficient information about your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, tribal and clan membership, or political affiliations, especially if you are applying for asylum due to having been hurt or threatened because of one of those factors.

Be careful to list all of your biological and adoptive children. Include children even if you are not (or were never) married to their parent. Also include your children even if they are married or if they are 21 years old or older. (Although married children and children who are 21 years old or older do not receive asylum automatically when your application is approved, you may file for their legal status once you become a permanent resident or citizen. Failure to mention them now could create trouble for those later petitions.)

If you cannot remember specific dates, try to include the month and the year if you can remember them accurately. If you are estimating a date, state so by noting that the date is an estimate ("est") or approximate ("approx"). Make sure that all of the information you provide is accurate to the best of your ability. Do not try to guess specific dates if you cannot remember them.

For further detail, see Filling Out Form I-589 Application for Asylum. Don't forget to make two copies of the form when you're done: one to also send to USCIS, one for your own records.

Why You Are Seeking Asylum

In Part B of the I-589, you will need to address the important question of why you are seeking asylum. You should include information about what happened to you and your family in the past which has made you afraid to return, why you (or your family) were harmed, and what you believe would happen to you if you had to return to your home country.

You should describe specific incidents and dates, and include as much detail as you can remember. Do not simply write general statements. Again, if you cannot remember an exact date, state that you are estimating it.

It is a good idea to attach a written declaration to your application (described below). That way, you can give short answers to the questions in Part B, and say "See also attached declaration."

How to Prepare Your Declaration

Your written statement (declaration) should explain in detail why you left your home country and why you are afraid to return there. You are not required to include it with your asylum application, but it will help the Asylum Officer better understand why you are applying for asylum.

Such declarations may go on for several pages. You will want to include the following information:

  • Your name; birth date and birth place; citizenship; ethnicity; tribal or clan affiliation.
  • Your parents' names and address; number of siblings and their location.
  • Your spouse's name and location; date and place of marriage; number of children.
  • Your background, schooling, and employment history.
  • Any political or religious involvement that you had.
  • A detailed explanation of everything that has happened that makes you afraid to return. Make sure to include specific dates, places, names, and witnesses. Explain how exactly you were harmed or threatened, and reasons for why you were harmed or threatened.
  • A detailed explanation of harm or threats that your family or friends suffered in your home country. Again, include dates, places, names, witnesses, and how and why they were harmed or threatened.
  • What you think will happen to you if you have to go back to your home country, and why.
  • Why you cannot move to a different part of your home country to be safe.

At the end of your declaration, write: "I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the foregoing is true and correct." Then sign the declaration and date it.

Including Independent Information About Conditions in Your Country

Asylum Officers find background information about the human rights situation in your country, and about any specific events that you were involved in, very useful. It helps establish that your story is consistent with what independent sources have said is occurring in your country.

You may submit articles from newspapers, books, or human rights reports that help to explain the situation in your country and what had happened to you. Information about country conditions can be found from:

What to Include in Your Complete Asylum Application

Before you mail your application to USCIS, make sure that you have included everything required. In addition to filing two sets of Form I-589 (the original you filled out, plus one copy), you must include the following:

  • one recent passport-size photograph of you
  • two copies of any passport that you have and of any U.S. immigration documents (such as your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record)
  • two copies of other identification documents that you have, such as your birth certificate, national identity card, or driver's license, and
  • fee ($50 on or after October 2, 2020).

Do NOT submit originals of your immigration or identity documents. USCIS will probably never return them. Instead, bring all original documents to your asylum interview, where the Asylum Officer can examine them in person.

If you can, you should also include the following materials with your asylum application:

  • one original and one copy of your declaration
  • one original and one copy of declarations from friends or family who witnessed how you were harmed or threatened in your home country
  • one original and one copy of an expert declaration from a medical expert who has examined you for evidence of physical abuse you suffered in your country
  • one original and one copy of an expert declaration from a psychologist or psychiatrist who has examined you for evidence of emotional problems you are suffering as a result of harm you suffered in your country
  • one original and one copy of an expert declaration from a human rights activist or an academic who is familiar with human rights abuses in your country
  • one original and one copy of country-conditions reports and any news clippings explaining human rights abuses in your country and what had happened to you
  • any other materials that confirm what had happened to you in your home country, including photographs that show how you were harmed, threatening letters, newspaper articles describing how you were harmed, official government documents, and so forth.
  • a cover letter, listing what's in the application and mentioning any special requests; see, for example, Can I Ask for a Female Asylum Officer and Interpreter?

Also make an additional copy of everything for your own records.

How to Submit Documents in a Language Other than English

Make sure that each document that is not in English includes:

  • a complete translation into English, and
  • a certificate of translation, which states that the translator is fluent in both English and the original language of the translated document, and that he or she translated the document into English to the best of his or her ability.

Applying for Asylum for Family Members

If you are also filing for asylum for your spouse and children (unmarried and under the age of 21) who are present in the U.S., include an extra copy of Form I-589 for each family member. Also, you will need to provide marriage and birth certificates showing your family relationship, and a passport-style photograph of each family member.

Where to File Your Asylum Application

The USCIS Service Center to which you will need to mail your asylum application depends on your state of residence. Consult the "Instructions for I-589" at the link above for the correct location.

What Will Happen After You File Your Asylum Application

After USCIS receives your application, it will send you a receipt. USCIS will later send you a letter notifying you of the place, date, and time for your biometrics appointment (fingerprinting). Finally, you will receive a letter notifying you of the time and place of your asylum interview.

While your asylum application is pending, you will be permitted to remain in the United States. If you need to travel outside the U.S. while your application is pending, you must first obtain advance parole (which you can apply for using Form I-131). It is not recommended that you visit your home country, because USCIS will assume that you do not fear returning there and therefore do not need asylum in the United States.

If you change your address, make sure to inform USCIS within ten days of moving, either by sending in Form AR-11 or directly on the USCIS website.

There is a risk that the central USCIS office will not advise the asylum office of your change of address. Therefore, while your asylum case is pending, you should ALSO send Form AR-11 to the USCIS office to which you had submitted your asylum application.

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