Understand the Differences Between Being a Refugee and Political Asylum

If you are seeking shelter in the United States from persecution, you may not completely understand the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker. If you have fled your country and are looking to live and work in the United States, you should understand which type of application you should make to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on the circumstances under which you left the country. In this blog post, we’ll go through the differences between refugee and asylum seekers and the different processes and forms you are expected to fill out for each scenario. 

What is the Difference Between Refugee and Asylum Seeker? 

People who fled religious or political persecution and sought protection in the United States are referred to as “asylees” and “refugees”. However, while both terms are very similar, there is a slight difference between the two. A person seeking refuge from a country while already located in the United States is an “asylee”. A person who asks for protection while still in another country (not their home country as they have already left that location) and then allowed to enter the United States is called a “refugee”.

While the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker is just in how a foreign national is applying, both a refugee and an asylee must prove to the U.S. government that they qualify for protection under U.S. law because they meet the refugee and asylum-seekers definition in Section 101(a)(42)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).

Asylum and Refugee Difference When Applying 

As mentioned above, the difference between refugees and asylum seekers is primarily procedural. Once a person has gotten asylee or refugee status, the rights of asylum seekers and refugees are similar but not the same. Below we will cover the different processes and rights of both refugees and asylees.

Becoming an Asylee – If you are in the U.S. and present unlawfully but not yet placed in removal proceedings, you can submit Form I-589, which the USCIS issues. If you are already in removal proceedings, you can submit this form to your immigration court judge.

Form I-589 is just one part of the asylee application. You must submit as much documentation and evidence as possible that proves who you are, how you were persecuted in the past or why you think you would be persecuted if you returned to your home country. While having evidence that is specific yourself is ideal, in many cases having this kind of paperwork on hand is not realistic. Using other documentation such as reports by human rights organizations or non-governmental organizations (N.G.O.s) and affidavits from experts that describe similar situations to your own are also frequently used to prove an asylee’s status.

Once you have submitted Form 1-589 and your evidence, you will be called into your local USCIS office for an interview regarding your asylum application. The officer will ask you several questions about you and your application, so make sure to review what you submitted as inconsistencies could be a sign that you aren’t being honest. After the interview, the decision on your application will either be sent to you by mail, or you will need to return to the USCIS office to receive it. 

Becoming a Refugee – To apply to become a refugee in the United States, you will need to get in touch with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Once you do that, they will decide whether to refer you to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), and a Refugee Officer from USCIS will decide on your application. You will need to prove who you are with identity documents or any other means possible. UNHCR will then refer your case to a particular country. You cannot ask to be sent to a particular country, but you can indicate that you do not want to have your application submitted to a particular country.

If UNHCR refers your case to the U.S., your case will then be handled by a USCIS Refugee Officer at USCIS. Once the R.S.C. has your application and your evidence, they will schedule an interview with a USCIS Refugee Officer. If your application is approved, you and your family would then need to have medical exams done and arrange for you to have cultural integration education and travel to the United States.

U.S. immigration law is known for being complex and constantly changing. If you or your loved one is considering applying for asylee or refugee status in the United States, it’s best to speak to an experienced immigration attorney. At Dominguez Law Firm, PLLC, we work with our clients to get them through the process and work hard to achieve the best result possible. Get in touch today to discuss your specific situation.