How to apply for asylum in the United States?

In my Immigration Consultation® column this week I explain what it is, who is eligible and how to obtain asylum in the United States.

This is the column:

Recently, it has been mentioned a lot in the media that there are immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. But this benefit is difficult to obtain because there are strict requirements for it to be granted.

Each year thousands of people come to the United States seeking asylum because they have been victims of persecution in their home countries or fear future persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. It is not easy to be granted asylum. But if an immigrant is found eligible, he or she will be allowed to remain in the country legally.

For example, according to the latest asylum statistics provided by the U.S. immigration court for fiscal year 2012, of the 44,170 asylum petitions filed in the immigration courts, only 11,978 were approved. Only 126 Mexican cases were approved out of the 9,206 petitions filed.

To apply for asylum, a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, must be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the immigration court. The applicant must be inside the U.S. or at a port of entry to apply for asylum.

There are different types of asylum, with petitions processed in different ways.

Affirmative asylum requests

Affirmative asylum applications are for people who are not in deportation proceedings. They must apply for asylum with the USCIS.

Defensive asylum requests

A defensive asylum application is for people who are in deportation proceedings. These types of petitions must be filed in immigration court.

Requirements to apply for asylum

All asylum seekers must prove that they have been victims of persecution in their country of origin or fear future persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. These are the only categories of asylum that currently exist.

An asylum case must be initiated within one year from the date you arrived in the U.S., unless there are valid reasons for not acting in time. There is no fee for this process.

You may include your spouse and unmarried children under 21 on your asylum application. If for some reason you did not include your family on your application when you submitted it, you may do so at any time, as long as it is before a final decision is made on your case.

You cannot apply for a work permit at the same time you apply for asylum. You can only apply for employment authorization 150 days after you file your complete asylum application.

If your asylum case is approved, you can apply for permanent residence one year later. Do so as soon as that deadline passes, as the circumstances that helped you obtain asylum could change and void your eligibility for permanent residence.

Asylum cases are very difficult and many of them are rejected. It is extremely important that before filing an asylum application you consult with a licensed and experienced attorney - not a notario or an immigration consultant. It is very common for people who are not authorized to practice law in this country to mislead undocumented immigrants into attempting to seek legal status through this avenue, defrauding them and misleading them about their chances of success.

Risks of applying for asylum if you are ineligible

It is possible that USCIS will place you in deportation proceedings if your asylum case is denied. However, the first denial of an asylum petition is not final.

If the USCIS denies an asylum application, you can ask for a review of the case in front of an immigration judge. If the judge denies the application, you can appeal the decision to a higher court. But you must act within the time limits set by law or you will lose your right to appeal.

Never lie when applying for asylum. The U.S. federal government severely punishes individuals who file frivolous asylum claims. An application is frivolous if any of the material elements of the application are false or fraudulent.

For more information and immigration tips, read my blog

Send your questions to Include detailed information about your situation to better answer your questions.

Nelson A. Castillo, Esq. is an immigration attorney and author of La Tarjeta Verde: Cómo Obtener la Residencia Permanente en los Estados Unidos (Green Card: How to Obtain Permanent Residence in the United States). He is a past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and current President of the Los Angeles Westlake South Neighborhood Council. To contact Mr. Castillo's office, please call (213) 537-VISA (8472).