Anatomy of an Affirmative Asylum Application

The first article in this series explained that a person seeking asylum in the United States is within the definition of a refugee.  The second explained the two different ways to request asylum.  This article will go in-depth into the first way to apply for asylum: affirmative asylum applications.

The Affirmative Application Overview

An affirmative application for asylum is one that is filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the individual has been “caught” by immigration officers and before the asylum seeker is placed into removal proceedings.  The asylum seeker must file a Form I-589 within one year of his or her last arrival to the U.S.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but most deal with a significant change in the person’s circumstances such as a revolution in their country or a change in the person’s religion. The Form I-589 and Instructions can be found at and downloaded for free.  However, the Form and Instructions are only available in English and can be quite daunting.  The Form itself is 12 pages.  The Instructions are a single-spaced, double-columned 13 pages.  The Instructions are lengthy enough to include a table of contents.  

Once an applicant has located the form, filled out it, and made the requisite number of copies, he or she will mail the application to the appropriate office.  Two and a half pages in the Instructions are dedicated to the question “Where to File?”  Assuming that the applicant has correctly navigated the filing instructions, he or she will receive a Notice of Receipt from USCIS about three weeks after mailing in the application.  If there are any obvious errors (any question left blank, not enough copies, no photo stapled to the last page, etc.), the application will be rejected and sent back to the applicant to be corrected and resubmitted.

After the application has been received and accepted, the applicant will receive a notice directing them to the nearest Application Support Center (ASC) for fingerprinting.  The fingerprinting notice usually arrives about two weeks after the Notice of Receipt.  

Once biometric information is captured by the ASC, there is a lengthy waiting period.  The last step in the application is an interview with an asylum officer.  Most non-priority applications are taking 2-5 years to get to the interview stage.  Priority cases (unaccompanied minor, rescheduled interviews, and emergency situations) also have a lengthy wait time.  

Work and Travel

An asylum applicant may apply for work authorization once the application has been pending for 150 days (5 months).  A work permit will be issued once the asylum application has been pending for 180 days (6 months).  This means that a person who has applied for refugee status within the United States is not allowed to work for 6 months after submitting the application.

An applicant may travel abroad by requesting an Advance Parole Document.  This document must be applied for and approved in order to leave the country.  If an asylum applicant leaves the country without authorization while the application is pending the asylum application will be considered abandoned.  If the applicant ever returns to his or her home country at any time, even after obtaining Advance Parole, he or she will be at risk of losing asylum status.

The Interview

Asylum interviews are conducted by an asylum officer.  Interpreters are not provided by the government and must be brought at the applicant’s expense.  The interview length can range from 20 minutes to over an hour.  An applicant is allowed to bring his or her attorney.  After the interview, the officer will decide based on the interview, the documents submitted with the application, the background check results, and any other relevant information whether to grant asylum or not.  If the officer does not grant the application, the applicant is referred to the Immigration Court for removal (deportation) proceedings.  

Because of the length of time that an asylum application pends, many applicants find that their circumstances change.  Where a person fled for one reason, they may find that they do not want to return for another.  For example, a person could flee because she is politically opposed to and in danger from the current political regime.  However after waiting 3 years for her application to be heard, she has changed religion and now fears to return because people in that religion are persecuted.  Confronting these changed circumstances can be difficult. 

For more detailed information on affirmative asylum applications, such as local processing times, specific applications of the law, and other considerations, consult an experienced immigration attorney.

C. Zach Young