In the complex world of immigration, it is crucial to understand the distinctions between different legal statuses. For individuals seeking protection in the United States, the terms "refugee" and "asylee" often arise. While both categories involve individuals fleeing persecution or danger in their home countries, the legal processes and rights associated with each differ significantly. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the differences between refugees and asylees, empowering you to make informed decisions about your immigration journey.
1. Defining Refugee and Asylee Status:
Refugee and asylee status are forms of protection for individuals fleeing persecution or danger in their home countries.
Refugees are individuals who are outside their country of origin and unable or unwilling to return due to fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. They are eligible for resettlement in a third country.
On the other hand, asylees are individuals who are already in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry and seek protection based on the same grounds of persecution. Asylees must prove their eligibility for asylum to stay and live legally in the United States. Both refugees and asylees receive similar protections and can apply for permanent residency (green card) after one year of being granted status.
2. The Refugee Application Process:
The refugee application process involves several steps and is overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the U.S. government. Here is an overview of the process:
- Refugee Determination: The first step is to determine whether an individual meets the criteria to be recognized as a refugee. This involves demonstrating a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
- UNHCR Registration: If the person is recognized as a refugee, they may register with the UNHCR, which provides assistance and protection while the application is processed.
- Resettlement Application: For those seeking resettlement to the United States, they must apply through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). A refugee referral or sponsorship is required, which can come from family members in the U.S., a U.S. embassy or designated organizations.
- Interview and Background Checks: Applicants undergo rigorous interviews and background checks to ensure their eligibility and security.
- Medical Examination: A medical examination is conducted to ensure that refugees do not pose a health risk to the U.S. population.
- Cultural Orientation: Before departure, refugees receive cultural orientation to help them adjust to life in the United States.
- Departure and Arrival: Once approved, refugees travel to the United States and are received by the U.S. Department of State. They are placed in communities that have resources to support their integration.
It's essential to note that the process can be lengthy, and the number of refugees admitted each year is subject to change based on U.S. government policies and international situations.
3. The Asylum Application Process:
The asylum application process allows individuals who have fled their home country due to fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group to seek protection in another country. In the context of the United States, here is an overview of the asylum application process:
- Arrival in the United States: To apply for asylum in the U.S., the individual must physically arrive at a U.S. port of entry or be present in the country. Asylum seekers cannot apply from outside the U.S.
- Filing the Application: The asylum seeker must submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within one year of their arrival in the U.S. However, there are exceptions for certain circumstances, such as changed circumstances in the home country or exceptional circumstances.
- Screening Interview: The applicant will have a screening interview with a USCIS asylum officer. During this interview, the applicant will be asked about their reasons for seeking asylum and their eligibility for protection.
- Biometrics Appointment: The applicant must attend a biometrics appointment, where their fingerprints and photograph are taken for background checks.
- Asylum Interview: Following the screening interview, the applicant will be scheduled for a more comprehensive asylum interview with a USCIS asylum officer. In this interview, the applicant will be asked to provide detailed information about the persecution they fear or have experienced in their home country.
- Decision: After the asylum interview, USCIS will make a decision on the asylum application. If approved, the applicant will be granted asylum status and may apply for work authorization. If denied, the applicant may be referred to immigration court for removal proceedings.
- Immigration Court Proceedings: If the asylum application is denied, the applicant may have the opportunity to present their case before an immigration judge in immigration court. The judge will consider the evidence and decide whether the applicant qualifies for asylum.
- Appeals: If the judge denies the asylum application, the applicant may have the right to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and, if necessary, to the federal courts.
It's important to note that the asylum process can be complex and time-consuming, and the assistance of an experienced refugee & asylum attorney is highly recommended to navigate the process effectively and increase the chances of a successful outcome.
4. Rights and Benefits for Refugees and Asylees:
Asylees and refugees are both granted protection based on a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries, but there are differences in their rights and benefits:
1. Definition: Asylees are individuals who apply for asylum while already present in the country where they seek protection, while refugees are individuals who apply for protection from outside the country and are resettled there.
2. Location: Asylees are already physically present in the country where they apply for asylum, while refugees are outside the country they wish to seek protection in.
3. Eligibility Process: Asylees undergo an individualized interview process with asylum officers or immigration judges to prove their eligibility, while refugees are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another authorized agency and undergo a more extensive vetting process before being resettled in a third country.
4. Rights: Both asylees and refugees have the right to live and work legally in the host country, as well as access to certain social services and benefits. However, refugees typically receive additional support and assistance upon arrival, such as housing, language training, and help in finding employment.
5. Path to Permanent Residency: Asylees may apply for permanent residency (green card) after one year of receiving asylum, while refugees are eligible to apply for permanent residency after living in the host country for one year.
6. Travel: Refugees may be subject to travel restrictions during the initial period of resettlement, while asylees have more freedom to travel internationally after receiving asylum.
7. Family Reunification: Both asylees and refugees can apply to bring their immediate family members to join them in the host country, but the process may vary slightly between the two categories.
It's essential to understand that the rights and benefits of asylees and refugees can differ based on the laws and policies of the host country. Additionally, their experiences may vary depending on the specific circumstances of their case and the country they seek protection in.
Contact Our Austin & San Antonio Refugee & Asylum Lawyers
Navigating the complex world of immigration can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to understanding the differences between refugees and asylees. By grasping the distinctions between these two categories, you can make informed decisions about your immigration journey and access the necessary resources and support. Peek Law Group, an Immigration law firm based in San Antonio and Austin, TX, is dedicated to assisting individuals with their refugee and asylee applications. Our team of experienced immigration attorneys can guide you through the process, ensuring your rights and interests are protected.
For more information, feel free to call our office at 512-399-2311 . We conduct consultations in person, via phone, and even via Skype.