The U.S. government offers humanitarian assistance to individuals who seek shelter from oppression, and perhaps the most well known programs of this type are the refugee and political asylum programs.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)define a refugee as someone who is outside of his or her homeland, and has been persecuted in his or her homeland or has a well-founded fear of persecution there on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  Political asylum is for someone already in the United States, and protects an individual from removal to a country of feared persecution.

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Refugee Status
To qualify for refugee status in the United States, you must meet the definition of a refugee above, plus:

  • You must be referred by the The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the U.S. Embassy, or you must be a member of a specified group with special characteristics in certain countries. Check the current list of priority groups for more information.
  • You must not be firmly resettled in another country.  This is defined by whether or not you have been offered resident status or citizenship in that country.
  • You must not be an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or a special immigrant.  In this case, you need to apply for an immigrant visa instead.
  • You must be living outside of the United States.  If you are already in the U.S., you may be eligible to apply for asylum (see below).

If you meet the criteria above, follow these steps to apply for refugee status in the United States:

  1. Contact the UNHCR or an international non-profit volunteer agency.  If you are unable to reach either of these, you can contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate.  Someone from one of these organizations will talk to you about your situation and determine whether you meet eligibility requirements to apply to be a refugee in the United States.  
  2. Next, you will be asked to complete a packet of forms. When completed, the USCIS will evaluate these forms and interview you to decide whether you qualify for refugee status in the United States.  There is no application fee for refugee status.
  3. If your refugee status in the United States is approved, your immediate family members (spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21) will be granted refugee status derived from your status.   If they are not with you at the time of your interview, they will need to file a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, Form I-730.
For contact information or other help, please contact the UNHCR.


Political Asylum Status

Individuals in the United States who want to be protected from being removed to a country of feared persecution should apply for political asylum in the United States.

There are fewer qualifications to apply for asylum than for refugee status.  Mainly, you must apply for asylum within one year of entering into the United States, but this requirement is waived in certain circumstances.

To apply for political asylum in the United States, complete Form I-589. There is no fee.

For more information about asylum, see the Guide for USCIS Asylum Applicants.

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