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Obtaining Asylum in the United States
Obtaining Asylum in the United States: Two Paths

The two main ways of obtaining asylum in the United States are through the affirmative process and through the defensive process.

“Affirmative” Asylum Processing with USCIS

In the affirmative asylum process, individuals who are physically present in the United States, regardless of how they arrived or their current immigration status, may apply for asylum. They do so “affirmatively” by submitting a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, to USCIS. In keeping with the idea that a genuine asylum-seeker should present himself/herself to authorities “without delay,” asylum-seekers must apply for asylum within one year from the date of last arrival in the United States, unless they can show:

  • Changed circumstances that materially affect their eligibility or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing, and
  • that they filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.

Asylum applicants file the Form I-589 by sending it to a USCIS Service Center. All asylum applicants are interviewed in a non-adversarial manner by USCIS asylum officers Asylum interviews take place at one of the eight Asylum Offices throughout the U.S. or, if the applicant lives far from one of those offices, at a USCIS Office closer to the individual’s place of residence

Normally, an affirmative asylum applicant is interviewed by USCIS within 43 days of application, and generally a final decision is received 14 days after the interview. If the applicant’s case is not approved and he or she does not maintain a valid immigration status, a Notice to Appear is issued and the case is referred to an Immigration Judge (IJ) at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) for de novo consideration of the application. See "Defensive" Asylum Processing with EOIR below. Note that case processing may take longer if the security checks are delayed or if the applicant does not reside near one of the eight Asylum Offices and an Asylum Officer is required to travel to a USCIS field office to conduct the interview.

Since the successful asylum program reforms of 1995, case processing, including processing by the IJ, is usually completed within 6 months of the initial application.

Most asylum applicants are not authorized to work while their asylum application is pending. For more information on work authorization, click on “Benefits and Responsibilities of Asylees” in the Related Links on the right. It is important to note that affirmative asylum applicants are rarely detained. They are free to live in the U.S . pending the completion of the asylum process with USCIS and, if found ineligible by USCIS, then with an Immigration Judge (see “Defensive” Asylum Processing with EOIR below) . For step-by-step information about the affirmative asylum process, please click on “The Affirmative Asylum Process” link under Related Links.

“Defensive” Asylum Processing with EOIR

Immigration Judges (IJs) with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) hear asylum applications only in the context of “defensive” asylum proceedings. That is, applicants request asylum as a defense against removal from the United States. IJs hear such cases in adversarial (court-room-like) proceedings: the judge hears the applicant’s claim and also hears any arguments about the applicant’s eligibility raised by the U.S. Government, which is represented by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorney. The IJ then makes an eligibility determination. If the applicant is found eligible, the judge orders asylum to be granted. If the applicant is found ineligible for asylum, the IJ determines whether the applicant is eligible for any other forms of relief from removal and, if not, will order the individual removed from the United States. IJ decisions can be appealed by either or the government or the applicant.

Aliens generally are placed into defensive asylum processing in one of two ways:

  • they are referred to an IJ by USCIS after a finding of ineligibility at the conclusion of the “affirmative” asylum process, or
  • they are placed in removal proceedings because they:
    • were apprehended in the United States or at a U.S. port-of-entry without proper legal documents or in violation of their status, or
    • were caught trying to enter the United States without proper documentation and were placed in the expedited removal process and found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture by an Asylum Officer.
How do I Apply?

To apply for asylum, you will need to complete Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. We specialize in filing Asylum cases. For assistance with determining eligibility for Asylum and any other questions, click here >

Key Differences Between “Affirmative” and “Defensive” Asylum Process



Asylum-seeker has not been placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge

Asylum-seeker has been placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge

Asylum-seeker affirmatively submits his or her asylum application to a USCIS Service Center


  • Is referred by an Asylum Officer;
  • Is placed in removal proceedings for immigration violations; or
  • Tried to enter the U.S. without proper documents and was found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture.

If the individual was referred by USCIS, the asylum application already filed will carry over to the IJ. If the individual did not yet submit an asylum application he will submit it to the IJ.

Asylum-seeker appears before a USCIS Asylum Officer for a non- adversarial interview

Asylum-seeker appears before an Immigration Judge with the Executive Office for Immigration Review for an adversarial court-like hearing

Applicant must provide a qualified translator for the asylum interview

The court provides applicant with a qualified interpreter for the immigration hearing