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If You’ve Won Asylum

As described elsewhere on this website, winning asylum in the United States is a difficult and often stressful process. Asylum is a very good status to have in the United States, but it is important for asylees to understand certain limitations and responsibilities which come with the status.

Immigration Equality administers a listserv for LGBT asylees.  It’s low volume, but we use it to let asylees know about educational opportunities, press inquiries, and other special events.  If you are LGBT and an asylee, and would like to join the listserv, please email legal@immigrationequality.org.

Asylees in the U.S. are entitled to certain government benefits, some of which should be applied for shortly after winning the asylum case.  For more information, please see this excellent guide prepared by Catholic Immigration Network.

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Adjustment of Status

One year after the date upon which you were granted final asylum status you can apply for legal permanent residence. This means one year after the final approval and issuance of the I-94 card stating “asylee,” not one year after the “Recommended Approval” letter from the asylum office. Until May 2005, there was a cap on the number of asylees who were permitted to “adjust status” to legal permanent resident each year, which resulted in a wait of over ten years for asylees to obtain legal permanent resident status. Fortunately, the cap was removed, so the wait has been reduced, generally to within one year of applying.

Procedure

Special instructions for asylee adjustment applications are available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website. You should check these instructions before filing and you can also check immigration fees for forms.

To apply for legal permanent residence as an asylee you must submit the following documents:

  • Form I-485 and appropriate fee (or fee waiver request)
  • 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 you have been living in the U.S. for the last year (such as copy of lease, bills, pay stubs, or receipt of government benefits)
  • Proof of legal change of name (if you have legally changed your name since being granted asylum).

Some adjustment applicants will have to submit additional paperwork. Applicants who are considered “inadmissible” because they they used false documents to enter the U.S. or committed crimes here will have to submit an I-602 waiver application. The waiver should be submitted along with the original adjustment application.  In most cases which require a waiver, the applicant will have to be interviewed in person.  If you have ever been convicted of a crime in the U.S., you should consult with an attorney before applying to adjust status.  Certain crimes could lead to revocation of your asylum status and could lead to DHS initiating removal (deportation) proceedings against you.

Additionally, an adjustment applicant who has traveled outside the U.S. after winning asylum will have to provide proof of any absences from the U.S. since being granted asylum (photocopies of pages from Refugee Travel Document).

The adjustment of status application for asylees is currently mailed to the Nebraska Service Center or the Texas Service Center, depending on where you live. Check on the USCIS website to determine which service center you should submit your application to. Make sure you keep a copy of everything you send to USCIS and send the application packet via certified mail, return receipt requested, or courier service that gives you a receipt when it is received by USCIS.

Special Considerations for Asylee Adjustment

  • Unlike other applicants for legal permanent residence, asylees do not have to prove that they are not “likely to become a public charge.” This means that it is okay for asylee adjustment applicants to receive welfare or SSI.
  • 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). For more information on fee waiver requests see USCIS Fee Waiver Guidance and Field Guidance on Granting Fee Waivers (pdf)
  • Having asylee status allows USCIS to “forgive” certain violations of the immigration law which would otherwise make it impossible to adjust status, including entering the U.S. without inspection (such as crossing the Mexican border); entering with false documents; accruing unlawful presence in the U.S.; or certain criminal convictions. You will probably still have to apply for a waiver (form I-602) of these violations and should consult with an attorney first. If you have any criminal convictions after winning asylee status, you should consult with an attorney before applying for legal permanent residence. Certain criminal convictions could lead to your asylee status being revoked and to you being removed from the U.S.
  • Since it is taking so long for USCIS to schedule interviews for asylee adjustments, it is extremely important that you keep them informed every time you change your address. You should do this by mail (certified, return receipt requested) and by telephone. Information is available at How Do I Report a Change of Address to the USCIS?

Naturalization

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.

Asylee Travel

If you have won asylum and are thinking about traveling outside the United States, you should consult with an attorney before doing so. Even though you now have asylee status here, every time that anyone other than a U.S. citizen travels abroad, the U.S. government can review your entire immigration record and determine whether or not to let you back into the United States. As an asylee who is thinking about traveling abroad, some important issues to be aware of are:

  • Do not return to the country from which you won asylum. Doing so will probably lead the U.S. to conclude that you no longer fear returning to your country and is likely to lead to your asylum status being revoked. Even after you receive legal permanent residence in the United States, it is best not to travel back to your country. In December 2006, Immigration issued a Fact Sheet on Asylee and Legal Permanent Resident Travel which confirms the danger of returning to your home country, even after obtaining legal permanent residence.
  • Do not travel with the passport issued by the country from which you won asylum. Doing so can lead the U.S. to conclude that you have availed yourself of the protections of your country and can lead to your asylum status being revoked. If you must travel, you have to apply for a Refugee Travel Document.
  • 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 your Travel Document while you are abroad and you may not be able to get back into the U.S

Even if you apply for and receive a Refugee Travel Document, this does not guarantee that you will be allowed back into the U.S. after you conclude your travel. The inspector at the airport or border crossing can look at your entire immigration record to decide whether you are “inadmissible.” You could be denied re-entry for any of the following reasons:

  • You originally entered the United States without inspection (for example crossing the Mexican border)
  • You originally entered the United States with false documents
  • You were “out of status” for more than six months in the United States (for example more than 6 months passed between the date you were supposed to leave the U.S. and the date you applied for asylum)
  • You have been convicted of a crime in the U.S.
  • Practically speaking, many asylees who fall under one of the above categories have traveled abroad without problems. The most conservative advice, however, is that you should consult with an attorney before traveling and if any of the above issues applies to you, don’t travel abroad until you receive your “green card.”

Asylee Employment Authorization

Once you have been granted final approval (not just the “Recommended Approval” letter from the asylum office), you can work lawfully in the United States without needing an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). 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 just to have a government-issued ID In fact, many state Departments of Motor Vehicles require this in order for you apply for a non-driver ID.

Asylees are also eligible for “unrestricted” social security cards. If you had an EAD in the past based on your pending asylum application, your social security card should have the words “valid for work only with DHS [or INS] authorization.” Once you win asylum status, you should return to Social Security to get an “unrestricted” card which will not require you to have an EAD to work in the United States. See Social Security Online.

Employment Authorization Documents are only valid for one year, and they cost over $200 (with fingerprint fees) to renew, so you should be aware that you are not required to renew them. Many employers are confused about asylee status, and if you do not have a “green card” they will demand an EAD. This is improper, and you can show them the Department of Justice Policy Memorandum explaining that, as an asylee, you are legally authorized to work without an EAD.

See March 10, 2003 Department of Justice Policy Memorandum (pdf).

Benefits Available to Asylees

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.