Rights and Available Benefits After a Grant of Asylum

After you receive your final approval of asylum, you can apply for certain immigration-related and other government benefits and services.

By , Associate Professor · Creighton University School of Law

After you receive your final approval of asylum in the United States, you can apply for certain immigration-related and other government benefits and services. These will help you and your family adjust to living in the Unites States. Be sure to act quickly, because some benefits are available only for a limited time after you are granted asylum.

Note that you are not yet eligible for asylee benefits if your asylum case is still on appeal to a higher court or if you only received conditional or recommended (not final) approval.

Here you will find guidance on what benefits might be available to you after you obtain asylum, and how to apply for them.

Making Sure Your Spouse and Unmarried Children Received Asylum

Once you have been granted asylum, your immediate family members (spouse and children)—whether they are in the U.S. or outside—are entitled to a "derivative" grant of asylum.

If your spouse and children were included in your asylum application and are physically present in the U.S., they will automatically receive asylum at the same time as you.

If they are overseas, or were not included in your application, you can file USCIS Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition to obtain asylum for them. Use a separate form for each family member. (Here's how to fill it out.) They will need to attend an interview at a USCIS office.

For your spouse to be eligible for asylum, the two of you must have been legally married (that is, with a government-issued certificate) before you were granted asylum. An exception can be made, however, for informal or refugee-camp marriages if you can provide evidence that this is what you entered into because you couldn't have your marriage legally recognized where it occurred because of your flight from persecution and circumstances beyond your control, or due to restrictive laws or practices in your country of origin or country of first asylum. Your marriage must meet all other legal requirements, however. (See 2022 guidance from USCIS.)

For your children to be eligible for derivative asylum, they must be unmarried and younger than 21.

It would also be wise to remind your spouse and children that, even if you were to die after receiving asylum, they will continue to have asylum status so long as they lived in the United States at the time of death and continue to live in there. What's more, they should be able to apply for U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card, via the procedure known as "adjustment of status") after one year, just like any other asylee.

Obtaining Benefits Through a Local Refugee Resettlement Agency

As soon as possible after obtaining asylum, you should contact a Refugee Resettlement Agency (RRA). The RRA should be able to help you adjust to living in the United States. RRAs may help you even if you are already working.

Depending on the local agency, and on your individual circumstances (including your family size, income, and savings), RRAs might help you in some of the following ways, for a limited length of time:

  • provide cash, housing, and/or living-expenses assistance
  • help you apply for government benefits and services (such as an Social Security card, refugee travel document, health care, and food stamps)
  • enroll you in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes
  • offer job-training classes, counseling, and job placement services, and
  • provide you with psychological counseling.

Be aware that some services have application deadlines. That is, you must apply for some programs offered to asylees within a certain time period (as few as 30 days after you were granted asylum) in order to be eligible. To find the closest RRA, call the Asylee Information and Referral Hotline, at 1-800-354-0365, or visit the Office of Refugee Resettlement website. Its map of relevant state agencies can be particularly helpful.

Also, some of the services for which you might be eligible have expiration dates by which you must stop using them, such as five years for programs related to employability such as job training and seven years for SSI (Supplemental Security Income for disabled persons).

Once you get your green card or become a U.S. citizen (see When an Asylee or Refugee Can Apply for U.S. Citizenship), you might be able to extend your eligibility for certain public benefits.

Applying for a Social Security Card

Asylees are automatically eligible to work in the United States. You do not need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to do so, but some find that an EAD is handy proof of identification if you do not have a passport or another photo ID.

However, you should definitely apply for a Social Security card, which employers will ask for, and which will enable you to pay taxes and apply for various public benefits. As an asylee, you are eligible for an "unrestricted" Social Security card, which does not place any limitations on your employment.

To obtain your Social Security card, go to your local Social Security Administration office. To find one near you, call 1-800-772-1213 or use the Social Security Office Locator online.

Bring original proof of your asylum grant, and proof of identity (such as a passport or state-issued ID card), and a completed Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card. Make sure to keep a receipt from the Social Security Administration that you had applied for a Social Security number to show other agencies if you apply for public benefits before you get your card.

You will receive your Social Security card in the mail within a few weeks. Double check that it does not have any restrictions written on it. If you do not receive it or if it has restrictions, return to the same Social Security office to inquire.

If you currently have a restricted Social Security number, you should go to the Social Security office and apply for an unrestricted card. Again, make sure to bring documentation proving that you were granted asylum.

Getting a Driver's License or a State Identification Card

As an asylee, you may obtain an official identification (ID) card or driver's license from the state where you live. Most states require that you have a Social Security number before issuing an ID card or driver's license.

Adjusting Your Status One Year After Grant of Asylum

After you have lived in the United States for one year since your grant of asylum, you can apply for a green card. In technical terms, this is called "adjusting status" to "lawful permanent resident." The primary form for this is USCIS Form I-485.

For guidance on why it is important to apply for U.S. permanent residence as soon as possible, and what you need for a successful application, see How to Apply for Permanent Residence as an Asylee.

Traveling Abroad and Reentering the U.S.

In order to reenter the United States after temporary travel abroad, you will need a refugee travel document. You can obtain it by filing USCIS Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. (Also see Applying for a Refugee Travel Document .) It might take several months for you to receive it. Travel documents expire, so also make sure that yours will still be valid when you try to reenter the United States.

Never go back to the country from which you are claiming persecution. If you do, the U.S. government may decide that you do not fear persecution there anymore, and take away your asylum status. (Even if they don't catch on right away, this could become an issue later, as described in Cautions for Former Asylees Seeking Naturalized U.S. Citizenship.) Similarly, do not travel using a passport issued by the country from which you had claimed persecution.

Four Years After Obtaining Your Green Card: Applying for U.S. Citizenship

You may apply for U.S. citizenship (to "naturalize") four years after obtaining your green card by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Technically, you are eligible to apply for citizenship five years after you officially become a permanent resident. However, one year of your time as an asylee counts as if you already had a green card. This is known as "rollback." Hence, your green card will specify your starting permanent residence date as one year before your residence application was actually approved. See How to Become a U.S. Citizen.

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