Risks and Benefits to Affirmatively Applying for Asylum

If you haven’t yet been stopped by U.S. immigration officials or placed in removal (deportation) proceedings, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the best and worst of what could happen next.

Of course, the huge benefit of an approved asylum application is the right to stay and live and work in the United States. Other benefits come after approval and during the application process. But requesting asylum also brings up some serious risks.

“Affirmative” asylum means you are already in the United States, and you choose to apply with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS’s) asylum office, following these procedures.

(In contrast, “defensive” asylum means that U.S. officials have encountered you either at the border or in the U.S interior and you are asking U.S. officials or a judge for asylum.)

Intermediate Benefit: Staying in the U.S. While Asylum Application Is Pending

A pending asylum application (Form I-589, with supporting documents) allows you to remain in the United States while the application is awaiting a final decision from USCIS or the immigration court. The application may be pending for a short time only, or it may be pending for several years.

The pending application does not give you lawful or permanent status in the same way that a green card or citizenship would, however. But there’s a side benefit: A pending and non-frivolous asylum application prevents you from collecting “unlawful presence” in the United States (as long as you do not violate other immigration rules, for example, by working without permission). That could help you avoid problems if you later become eligible for a U.S. green card on some basis other than asylum or if you leave and later want to return to the United States.

Intermediate Benefit: Getting Work Authorization After 180 Days of Waiting

If you have not received an approval or a denial in your case by the time 150 days has passed, you can apply for work authorization. It could happen that your asylum application is approved before 150 days have passed, in which case you will not even need this option. But it’s entirely possible that the asylum office or judge will not make a decision in your case until long after 150 days have passed.

By law, immigration officials cannot make a decision on requests for asylum-based work authorization until 180 days after the applicant submitted the I-589 form. If you cause any delays (like requesting a rescheduled appointment for fingerprints or an interview), that will “pause” the clock on the required number of days. So, be careful when considering a request to reschedule a USCIS appointment.

Your work permit will come in the form of an “employment authorization document” (or EAD), sent by mail. There may be delays of a week or two in receiving the EAD even after it is officially approved. Asylum-based EADs are currently approved for a two-year period. You can renew your EAD as many times as you’d like while your asylum case is still in process. The first EAD application is free, but after that, USCIS will charge you a fee.

The EAD will authorize you to work in almost any capacity in the United States. The exception is that some government or high-security jobs require you to be a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident status.

Intermediate Benefit: With Work Authorization, You Can Get a Social Security Number

When you apply for an EAD, you can also apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) on the same form, I-765. Alternatively, after the EAD is approved, you can go to an office of the Social Security Administration to apply in person for an SSN. You will receive a card that says you can work “with DHS authorization.” The EAD proves this authorization from DHS, the Department of Homeland Security.

Your SSN will be helpful for reasons beyond working. With an SSN (and an EAD), most states will allow you apply for a driver’s license or a state identification card. An SSN will also allow companies to run background and credit checks. This will make it easier for you to open a bank account, get a credit card, get a contract for a cell phone, and many other things.

Benefits If Approved for Asylum: Working and Living in the U.S. Indefinitely

At the end of the asylum process, an asylum officer or judge may grant you (and your dependent family members) the status of an “asylee”. An asylee can work and live in the United States indefinitely. See Granted Asylum in the U.S.: When You’ll Get Your Asylum Documents.

Your status as an asylee will last well into the future, although U.S. officials reserve the right to terminate it if you no longer fear returning to your home country (for example, if conditions in your country improve). In practice, U.S. officials do not often do this. One year after your asylum is approved, you can apply for permanent residence in the United States (a green card).

Benefits If Approved for Asylum: Governmental Assistance

If your asylum application is approved, you also qualify for a range of benefits from state and local governments. First, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) offers services to new asylees, including with housing, employment, and more. Be sure to act quickly; some of these programs are available for only a short time after asylum is approved.

In addition, asylees may qualify for a range of state and federal government programs normally open only to U.S. citizens or long-time permanent residents, such as SNAP benefits (“food stamps”) and Medicaid or subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).

These programs all have different tests for eligibility, time limits, and so forth. An ORR office or a state benefits office should be able to provide more information about which programs are available in your state and how to apply.

Risk of Removal (“Deportation”) Proceedings If Asylum Application Is Not Approved

If your case is not approved at the USCIS asylum office, it will probably be referred to the immigration court for removal (“deportation”) proceedings.

(If you have some other valid status in the United States. however, for example you entered on a student visa and are still attending classes, the asylum office will not refer your case to the immigration court. Instead, the asylum office will deny your asylum application and allow you to keep your current immigration status.)

A “referral” is not yet a denial, but it means that the asylum office was not convinced for some reason. In removal proceedings, you will have the chance to renew your asylum application and testify in immigration court. The court should receive a copy of your application (I-589 and supporting documents) from the asylum office, so you should not need to file it again. At the end of the proceedings, the immigration judge can grant your asylum application or can order your removal from the United States.

An order of removal will usually prevent you from legally returning to the United States for five (or more) years into the future. Even then, it may be difficult to get a visa to return to the United States, because U.S. immigration officials may believe that you will not return to your home country after a visit to the United States.

And of course, the risk of being removed to the country from which you fled is very real.

Other Risks If Your Asylum Application Is Not Approved

If your U.S. asylum application is not approved, you probably will not be able to apply for asylum in any other country. Most countries have signed an international agreement preventing asylum seekers from seeking asylum in one country after the other. However, if something about your background or your country changes, you may be able to apply for asylum again in the U.S. or in another country.

In addition, through your asylum application, U.S. immigration authorities will know where you and your family live, and have your fingerprints on file. The asylum application form asks about your spouse, children, parents, and siblings, including where they are living now. In addition, your supporting documents or questions during the asylum interview could reveal more details about these family members or details about other family members or friends.

U.S. immigration officials do not currently use this information to target individuals who are in the U.S. without lawful status, but you should still carefully consider the risk of disclosing names and locations. You may choose not to include details of your family members, such as their location. But be careful, because if an asylum officer or an immigration judge learns that you have hidden information on purpose, they may question other facts of your application or even conclude you purposely hid relevant information.

During asylum interviews, U.S. immigration officials usually advise asylum seekers that information from the asylum process will not be shared with other governments. This is reassuring if you worry that your government may retaliate against you. But if you have to appeal your case to a federal court, your name may eventually be revealed.

Risk of Being Found to Have Filed a Frivolous Asylum Application

You should not file an asylum application that is “frivolous.” Your asylum application will be considered frivolous if you lie or make up a fact that is important in your case.

The consequences of filing a frivolous application are severe: a lifetime bar to any immigration benefits. U.S. immigration authorities use several tools to uncover frivolous applications. Do not think that you can hide something or trick them. The risk is simply not worth it.

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