Applying for Asylum in the United States


Every year, thousands of people who are facing persecution—or are living in fear of persecution or torture—flee their countries to the United States in hopes of gaining asylum.

The asylum process is complex and there are variables that determine your unique options. I’ve laid out the initial steps below—but more than anything else, I want to say: we understand that obtaining asylum can be intimidating, confusing and emotional. Our immigration team specializes in helping you reach a legal resolution that enables you to live and work in the United States. And beyond offering expert legal support, we’re committed to being your trusted partner along the way to make the process a little less daunting.

How Do I Know if I’m Eligible for Asylum?

There are basic criteria you must meet to apply for asylum in the United States:

  1. You must apply for asylum within the first year you’re in the United States—if you don’t apply within one year, you may no longer be eligible.
  2. You must believe and demonstrate that you are in danger of persecution or torture if you return to your country.
  3. You must be physically present in the U.S. when you apply.
  4. You can include your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 on your application, as long as they are also physically present in the U.S.

Credible fear of facing persecution or torture is defined as having founded fears on account of your:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

If you meet the criteria above, there are three ways to obtain asylum.

Three Ways to Obtain Asylum

1) Affirmative Process: This process is for individuals (and their dependents) who are not in removal proceedings. If you are applying through the affirmative process, you’ll fill out an application via U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS will either grant your request or refer you to an immigration court for removal proceedings. If referred to an immigration court, you can renew your request via the defensive process.

2) Expedited Process: This process is for individuals who are taken into custody within 14 days of entering the U.S. In this instance, if you fear that you face torture or persecution upon returning to your country, you’ll be referred to USCIS for a screening interview. If USCIS deems your fears credible, they will make one of two decisions:

  1. Refer you to a second interview called an Asylum Merits Interview—under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)—to determine your eligibility for asylum and, possibly, your eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under CAT
  2. Refer you to an immigration judge for consideration of asylum, withholding of removal, and CAT protection claimsDepending on the circumstances, the immigration court may also place you in the defensive asylum process.

3) Defensive Process: This process is for individuals who are in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). You may reach the defensive asylum process one of several ways:

  1. Your affirmative application was denied
  2. You were apprehended in the U.S. or at a U.S. port of entry, and you were either without legal documentations or in violation of your immigration status
  3. You were apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol without proper documentation, were placed in expedited removal process, and were found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture

You can read more about all three processes, as well as see a grid that compares each one, on this USCIS web page: Obtaining Asylum in the United States | USCIS.

What Happens After I Submit My Application?

If you’re applying for asylum via the USCIS’s form I-589, you will receive an email confirming your application. You will then receive a second communication requesting your presence for a biometrics screening, including a photo and fingerprints. Within three weeks, you will receive a notification for an interview with an asylum officer.

It’s important to note that as soon as you send in your application, you are eligible for a work visa—enabling you to find employment while your application is pending. You’ll need to apply for employment authorization. Our attorneys can support you with preparing for the interview and applying for a work visa.

How Else Can an Attorney Help Me?

The asylum process is complicated and sensitive. We understand that every person seeking asylum wants a safer, better way of life. But it can be hard to navigate the system, and it can be even harder to show evidence that supports fear of persecution or torture.

With an attorney’s help, you don’t have to go through this alone. At Stern Perkoski Mendez, our compassionate immigration team is dedicated to helping you prepare a strong case and tell your story. We keep everything confidential, and we offer payment plans so you don’t have to take on a financial burden in addition to the other stress you’re facing.

Contact Us Today

If you need support with your asylum case, please contact us. Together, we will do everything possible to ensure you can live and work in the United States safely, without fear.

Appointments are available via phone or Zoom, or at our Oak Brook office.

Reach Out

For a free consultation, call Stern Perkoski Mendez at (847) 868-9584 or contact us.