Refugee and Political Asylum Overview

What is Asylum?

Asylum is a form of protection granted to individuals in the United States who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Individuals who meet this definition of a refugee and who are already in the United States or who are seeking entry into the United States at a port of entry may qualify for a grant of asylum and be permitted to remain in the United States as long as they are not barred from either applying for or being granted asylum.  Individuals who are granted asylum are eligible to apply to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Unlike the U.S. Refugee Program, which provides protection to refugees by bringing them to the United States for resettlement, the U.S. Asylum Program provides protection to qualified applicants who are already in the United States or are seeking entry into the United States at a port of entry. Asylum-seekers may apply for asylum in the United States regardless of their countries of origin and regardless of their current immigration status. There are no quotas on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum each year.

Applying for Asylum with USCIS

Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)

Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear

Frequently Asked Questions


Millions of people around the world are displaced by war, famine, and civil and political unrest each year. Other people are forced to flee their countries in order to escape the threat of death and torture by persecutors. Under U.S. law, a refugee is a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or a membership in a particular social group. If the person is not in the United States, he or she may apply overseas for inclusion within the U.S. refugee program. If the person is already within the United States, he or she may apply for the U.S. asylum program. This definition of a refugee does not include those people who have left their homes only to seek a more prosperous life. Such people are commonly referred to as "economic migrants," and are not refugees. People fleeing civil wars and natural disasters also may be ineligible for refugee resettlement under U.S. law, although they may fall within the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States (U.S.) works with other governmental, international, and private organizations to supply food, health care, and shelter to millions of refugees around the world. Furthermore, the United States considers persons for resettlement to the U.S. as refugees. Those admitted must be of special humanitarian concern and demonstrate that they were persecuted, or have a justifiable fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Each year, the State Department prepares a Report to Congress on proposed refugee admissions. Thereafter, the U.S. President consults with Congress and establishes the proposed ceilings for refugee admissions for the fiscal year.

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