Asylum is a form of protection and a path to permanent residence and citizenship for people whose lives or freedom are at risk in their home country because of their identity: their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group” (PSG). This last category can include people such as sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, transsexual, gender-non-confirming folks, or others who challenge their society’s norms around sexuality and gender), members of a family, and sometimes, survivors of gender-based violence or violence within their family.
People who are not in removal proceedings (who do not have a court case with an immigration judge) file their asylum cases “affirmatively” with the Asylum Office. A specially-trained asylum officer will review the applicant’s evidence and written statement, and will also conduct an in-depth interview which can often take a four to six hours, assisted by an attorney and an interpreter, if needed. The Asylum Officer will consider whether the applicant is telling the truth about what happened to her and why she is afraid to return to her country, and will evaluate whether the applicant is eligible under complex and rapidly-changing laws.
If the Asylum Officer approves the application, the applicant immediately receives protection from deportation, eligibility to work, and eligibility to apply to bring immediate relatives (spouses and minor children) from abroad. After a year, an asylee can apply for lawful permanent resident status and after five years, she can apply for US citizenship. If the Asylum Officer does not approve the application, and the applicant lacks lawful immigration status, she will refer the case to an immigration judge. The applicant is now in removal (deportation) proceedings, but may present her asylum case again to the judge.