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Legal Information: Federal


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May 17, 2013

What is asylum? Who can be eligible for asylum status?

Asylum is an immigration status that may be granted to someone who is already here in the U.S. and is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution (mistreatment/abuse) or a well-founded fear of persecution based on one or more of the following:

  • race,
  • religion,
  • nationality,
  • membership in a particular social group, or
  • political opinion.*

An individual seeking asylum comes to the U.S. on his/her own; either by using a nonimmigrant visa or by entering the U.S. without inspection (when a person enters the country illegally).  Unlike a refugee, a person seeking asylum does not receive any assistance from the U.S. government before arriving in the U.S.

Note: Foreign victims of severe domestic violence and sexual abuse may qualify for asylum status as part of the “membership in a particular social group” category.

An undocumented person can apply for asylum** but if the application is denied, it could ultimately result in his/her deportation.  It is important to speak to a lawyer who has experience in this area of law.  To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our International / Immigration page.

* INA § 101(a)(42), 8 CFR § 208.13
** See USCIS website