People from all over the world immigrate to the United States for different reasons every day. They could have just gotten a great new job, or found themselves going to college in America, or they’re just looking for a better life.
And some of those immigrants are fleeing some type of hardship in their home country; they are people seeking asylum and protection. But what does that process look like for asylum-seekers?
First, a quick history lesson. The laws that govern our current asylum process can be traced back to commitments made during the United Nations Refugee Convention. The document was ratified by 145 nations. It defines what a refugee is and determines how nations are legally obligated to protect them.
To be granted asylum in the U.S., you have to be fleeing or afraid of some type of persecution that is linked to your political opinion, religion, nationality or ethnicity, or you can be a member of a particular social group facing persecution.
That persecution can be coming from your government, but it doesn’t have to. If it’s a non-governmental actor, your government has to be unable or unwilling to protect you.
You also have to be able to prove all of this with evidence. And that can prove difficult for a lot of asylum-seekers. You don’t really get a note from your persecutor with an easily digestible explanation.
There are two types of asylum in the U.S.: defensive and affirmative. Defensive asylum is only used after an immigrant is already in removal proceedings. It can be pretty adversarial and is much more like a court proceeding. The judge will hear the evidence and make a decision.
Affirmative asylum is much less adversarial and can be done without being in federal custody. You’d fill out an application, be fingerprinted and go through background and security checks, and eventually be given an interview.
The decision will be made by asylum officers and is reviewed by their supervisors to double-check their work.
The length of the process can be different based on the case, but a decision ranging from being granted asylum to denial is typically made within about six months.