A person who is granted asylum (often called an “asylee”) has the immediate legal right to live and work in the United States. Generally, most asylees choose to apply for an employment authorization document and other forms of state identity documents to prove that they have the legal authorization to live in the United States. Please note however, that an asylee has immediate permission to work even without an employment authorization document.
While asylum is a relatively secure immigration status to have in the United States, there are certain limitations and responsibilities which come with the status.
Asylees in the United States may qualify for certain government benefits. Because some of these benefits require a person to apply shortly after being granted asylum, it is important for an asylee to investigate such options as soon as possible. For more information, please see this excellent guide prepared by Catholic Immigration Network.
Asylees are permitted under United States immigration law to apply for lawful permanent residence (a green card) one year after a final grant of asylum.
Special instructions for asylees applying for lawful permanent resident status are available at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services(USCIS) website.
To apply for lawful permanent residence as an asylee, a person must submit the following documents:
- Form I-485
- Fingerprint fee (this fee cannot be waived)
- 2 passport style photographs
- Form G-325
- Form I-693 Medical Examination form and vaccination supplement
- Evidence of asylee status (I-94 and letter granting asylum or decision by Immigration Judge)
- Birth certificate
- Proof that the asylee has been living in the U.S. for the last year (e.g., copy of a lease, bills, pay stubs, or receipt of government benefits)
- Proof of legal change of name (if there has been a legal name change since the grant of asylum).
Some asylees who are applying for a green card will have to submit additional paperwork along with their applications. For example, if an asylee has been convicted of certain crimes, or was forced to make misrepresentations in an initial visa application in order to escape persecution, that person must apply for a “waiver of inadmissibility” to qualify for lawful permanent resident status.Certain crimes and misrepresentations can legally bar a person from obtaining lawful permanent resident status, and in some instances can lead to revocation of a person’s asylum status.It is important to consult with an attorney before applying for a green card.
Applicants for lawful permanent residence should check the USCIS website for the most up-to-date information about where to file their applications. . Applicants should keep a copy of everything they send to USCIS. They should send the application materials via certified mail and request a return receipt, or use a courier service with a tracking number that can confirm receipt by USCIS.
Special Considerations for Asylees Applying for Lawful Permanent Residence
Unlike other applicants for lawful permanent residence, asylees do not have to prove that they are not “likely to become a public charge.” This means that having received welfare or other government benefits does not itself harm an asylee’s chances of obtaining a green card.
Since asylee adjustment applicants do not have to prove that they are able to support themselves, they can apply for a waiver of the fee for the I-485 (though they still must pay for the fingerprinting fee). The USCIS website provides more information on fee waiver requests.
Having asylee status allows USCIS to “forgive” certain violations of the immigration law which would otherwise make it impossible to get a green card, including entering the U.S. without inspection (such as crossing the Mexican border); entering with certain types of false documents; accruing unlawful presence in the U.S.; or certain criminal convictions. In these instances, applicants generally are nonetheless required to apply for a waiver of these violations and should consult with an attorney first to ensure that they can apply for lawful permanent residence without jeopardizing their asylum status.
Like all non-citizens, asylees who change their address are required to notify the government within 10 days of that change of address, either online or by mailing Form AR-11.
Generally, a legal permanent resident can apply to naturalize, or become a U.S. citizen, five years after obtaining a “green card.” When asylees get their “green card” it is backdated one year, meaning that they can apply to naturalize four years after obtaining residence. Once a foreign national becomes a U.S. citizen, as long as there was no fraud in the naturalization application, he or she cannot be deported.
Asylees who wish to travel outside the United States should consult with an attorney before doing so. Anytime an asylee or other non-citizen travels abroad, the United States government can review that person’s entire immigration record and determine whether or not to let that person reenter the United States. Asylees who wish to travel abroad should keep in mind the following:
- Do not return to the country from which you won asylum. Returning carries a high risk that the United States government will revoke a persons’ asylum grant, on the basis that the person either no longer that the asylee no longer fears persecution in their home country, or lied about their fears of persecution to obtain asylum. Even after an asylee receives lawful permanent residence in the United States, returning to a country from which a person was granted asylum can potentially endanger that person’s immigration status in the United States. Do not travel with the passport issued by the country from which you won asylum.
- Doing so can lead the United States to conclude that an asylee has sought and received protection from their home country and can lead to revocation of a person’s asylum status. Asylees who travel outside the United States should consult an attorney about applying for a Refugee Travel Document, which does not carry the same risk as using the asylee’s foreign passport.
- Do not travel with a Refugee Travel Document that will expire while you are outside the United States. The U.S. government is not required to renew a Refugee Travel Document for a person who is abroad and individuals lacking proper travel documentation may be denied entry into the United States. Note that a Refugee Travel Document does not guarantee that an asylee will be allowed back into the United States after concluding travel abroad.
Practically speaking, many asylees have traveled abroad without problems. The safest course of action, however, is to consult with an attorney before traveling abroad.
Asylees who have been granted final approval of their asylum applications (and not merely a “Recommended Approval” letter from the asylum office), immediately have the right to live and work in the United States without needing an Employment Authorization Document. However, since asylees do not receive any photo identification proof of their asylee status, many asylees choose to apply for a USCIS issued Employment Authorization Document to have a government-issued ID.
Asylees are also eligible for “unrestricted” Social Security cards, which allow a person to work in the United States without also having an Employment Authorization Document. Some asylum applicants who have not yet received final approval are only able to obtain “restricted” Social Security cards that indicate that they are “valid for work only with authorization from the Department of Homeland Security.” A person with a “restricted” Social Security card who subsequently wins asylum may apply for an “unrestricted” card.
Employment Authorization Documents are only valid for one year, and they cost over $200 (with fingerprint fees) to renew. There is no legal requirement for an asylee to renew them.. However, many employers are unfamiliar with asylee status, and may refuse to employ a person unless that person can produce either a “green card” or an Employment Authorization Document. This is improper, and asylees encountering this difficulty may show their employers the Department of Justice Policy Memorandum explaining that, as an asylee, you are legally authorized to work without an EAD.
Asylees and those who have been granted “withholding of removal” are permitted to receive many government benefits, which other immigrants are not permitted to receive. These include: welfare (Temporary Aid to Needy Families and Safety Net); Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if disabled; Medicaid and Food Stamps, for seven years after the date the application is granted.
For more information about what government benefits different categories of immigrants are eligible to receive, please see the Empire Justice Center website.
Unlike most categories of “green card” applicants, asylees do not need to prove that they are not “likely to become a public charge” and can obtain legal permanent residence even if they have used government benefits. Asylees can call 1-800-354-0365 for more information on local refugee service providers or see State Refugee Coordinators.