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Korbel Asylum Project

Basics of Asylum

When a foreign national in the United States is afraid to go back to their home country, they may be able to ask the U.S. government for asylum. To be granted asylum in the United States, an asylum seeker must show that they meet the definition of "refugee" under U.S. immigration law:

The term refugee means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion...  INA § 101(a)(42)

While this definition may appear straightforward, asylum law is exceedlingly complex and a grant of asylum is difficult to achieve. There are many legal elements to asylum, and not all persecution that people have suffered or fear will qualify them for asylum. Because the persecution suffered or feared must be "on account of" race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, merely fleeing civil war, without additional qualifying factors, is not a basis for asylum. Additionally, "persecution" does not include mere discrimination, harassment, or mandatory military service, unless additional qualifying factors are present.

There are many legal "bars" to asylum that preclude a persecuted individual from receiving asylum, the most widely known being the "one-year bar." In most circumstances, an asylum seeker must apply for asylum within one year of their last entry into the United States. While some limited exceptions to this rule exist, they are discretionary with the U.S. government and can be hard to obtain. Asylum seekers should seek legal advice from a qualified asylum lawyer prior to applying for asylum. If an asylum seeker is barred from receiving asylum, other forms of relief exist under federal law that protect individuals who fear returning home, and should be explored.


This website is intended for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal advice, is not a substitute for legal advice, and may not be current. Asylum seekers should seek legal advice from a qualified asylum lawyer prior to applying for asylum.