What is the Difference Between Asylum Status and Refugee Status?


There are roughly 63,000 asylum applicants yearly and nearly 1.6 million asylum applications. The United States admits roughly 11,000 refugees annually and gives asylum to roughly 31,000. 

Gaining residency under either status is not easy. 

It’s important to know the difference between these two statuses to increase your chances.

Refugee Status

You can be classified as a refugee if you have:

  • Already fled your country of origin
  • Have a well-founded fear of persecution
  • Have applied for refugee status with an official entity

You cannot enter the United States until your application has been accepted and cleared for travel. This is one reason why many refugees find themselves stuck in camps for years.

The State Department prioritizes refugees in the following order:

  1. Individuals referred by the UN High Commission on Refugees, by a US Embassy, or by an NGO
  2. Groups of “special humanitarian concern.”
  3. Those with family in the United States.

The process of gaining admittance to the United States can take up to 24 months, and you must pass all the normal background checks, fingerprint verifications, medical screenings, and in-person interviews. 

Asylum Status

You are classified as an asylum seeker if:

  • You’re fleeing your country of origin but have already arrived in the United States.
  • Can demonstrate you have a well-founded fear of persecution.
  • You request asylum on arrival. 
  • You apply for asylum status within one year of arrival. 

While waiting for your asylum application to process, you are allowed to live in the United States and seek employment. Asylum may also be claimed as a defense against deportation. An asylum seeker also must pass the normal round of background checks, medical checks, biometrics, and interviews. 

You may remain indefinitely until USCIS makes a decision about your case. However, your application may be terminated if USCIS finds that you no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution if you’ve obtained protection from another country, committed fraud or other crimes, or committed a criminal act. 

Get Help With Either Status

While our practice sees more asylum-seekers than refugee seekers, we’re happy to help either class of immigrant, especially as minor mistakes can lead to denial. 

If you’re trying to secure a green card because you’re afraid to return to your home country, contact Hykel Law today. We can help you gain your best chance of entering the United States successfully.

See also:

What is Parole Status in Immigration Law?

7 Documents You’ll Need for Your Asylum Case 

What Are the Grounds for Cancellation of Removal? 


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