Is Seeking Asylum the Same as Immigration?

People from other countries come to the United States for many different reasons. Some are seeking a better life or want to join family members, and some are escaping from intolerable conditions in their home country. Whether they are referred to as immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, they all encounter the U.S. immigration system, but each is handled somewhat differently. Let’s take a look at what makes people seeking asylum different, and the rights that they have under our laws.

Refugees and asylum seekers are similar in that both have left their country because they believe themselves to have been at grave risk had they remained. But asylum-seekers specifically seek protection from persecution or human rights violations, which is defined as harm or threats of harm to them or to their family, or to people who are similar to them based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion (or perceived political opinion), or membership in a specific social classification.

When a refugee is granted asylum in the United States, they are referred to as asylees and provided protection that allows them to remain in this country permanently instead of being deported or returned to their home country. They are provided a path to citizenship and are able to apply for their spouse and children to join them. By contrast, refugees are resettled to the United States temporarily.

Asylum seekers must already be in the United States or identify themselves as seeking asylum at one of our borders or ports of entry. To apply for asylum in the United States they can pursue either an affirmative process that involves applying through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or a defensive process in which the application is made directly to an immigration judge during a removal proceeding. The latter is the process generally used by those who arrive at a U.S. port of entry.

When a person seeks asylum, they must provide proof that they have endured persecution or that they have a “well-founded fear” of future prosecution in order to meet the definition of a refugee. Seeking asylum is time-sensitive: after a year in the United States, it is no longer available to a refugee.

The process of proving that you have a credible fear of persecution or torture if you return to your home country is challenging. For assistance, contact our immigration attorneys today.