Asylum status and refugee status are distinguishable by the place where you ask for the status or seek benefits under the status. Asylum is asked for in the U.S., and refugee status is asked for outside the U.S. Whether you are entitled to asylum or refugee status is governed by federal law (under the Refugee Act of 1980 – which regulates both U.S. Asylum and Refugee policy/law). The U.S. attorney general may grant asylum to you if you have a well-founded fear of persecution in your own country. “Asylum” refers to protection by a sovereign entity from persecution in your country of origin. There are several procedural requirements you must meet before you will be given asylum. Also, you will be denied asylum under certain circumstances, such as if you have committed a serious crime.
If you do not live in the U.S., you can apply for asylum at a U.S. embassy in your country. If you want to enter the U.S. and then seek asylum, you can do so at the place where you enter the U.S., like the airport or border. If you are already in the U.S., even illegally, you can apply for asylum as long as you do so within one year of arrival in the U.S. However, you may apply for asylum after one year in the U.S. if you can show that your situation changed and it caused a delay in your application. If you are already in the U.S., you can seek asylum by filing a petition with the USCIS. If you have already been placed in removal or deportation proceedings, then your case will be decided by a federal immigration judge.
Legal Editors: BoBi Ahn and Albert Ades, June 2015 (updated June 2019)
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.