Historically, there are two common avenues that the American government tends to favor in terms of immigration: the first is for employment-related purposes and the second is for those attempting to flee some sort of injustice. To that end, refugee status and asylee status are two classifications for immigrants who have been accepted into the United States on the basis of persecution. Under United States Citizenship and Immigration law, refugees and asylees who credibly demonstrate that they are facing persecution or fear facing persecution in their home country are accepted. Also, both are accepted into America for an indefinite period of time determined by the conditions of the refugee or asylee home country.

While the concepts of an asylee and a refugee are often conflated, there are several crucial differences between the two that are essential to understand before applying for either status.

1. Refugees must obtain their status from outside the country, while asylum seekers can seek to change their status on American soil.

This point is especially important for those who entered America without documentation and seek to adjust their immigration status. Applying for refugee status comes with the qualification that the applicant is not present on American soil when applying through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Also, refugees are typically referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program on an individual or group basis depending on the level of humanitarian concern.

On the other hand, there are a wide variety of circumstances that allows an immigrant to apply for asylum in America. This means that immigrants who entered the country without proper documentation, or those who are currently facing deportation proceedings, are capable of changing their status through asylum proceedings. Form I-589, known as “Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal” must be filled out in order to apply for asylee proceedings. An asylum seeker can also use this same form to petition for their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age to obtain asylum status as well.

2. Refugees obtain a work permit in conjunction with their status, but asylees must apply for a work permit separately.

Refugees can be employed almost immediately upon their admittance to the United States because they receive a refugee admissions stamp, which can be used as proof that the refugee is legally employable; also, employment authorization forms are filed on their behalf.

Like refugees, asylum seekers are not guaranteed employment authorization when their status as an asylee is accepted. However, an asylum seeker must wait a full year from the filing of their asylum application to file a Form I-765, which is known as an “Application for Employment Authorization.” While the case remains, there are several options that can make an active asylum applicant eligible for employment authorization. The full list of qualifications, as well as any reasons for delays in eligibility can be found on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service website. Ultimately, most

asylum seekers have their employment authorization approved by the government unless the applicant has been convicted of an aggravated felony or is suspected of committing a serious crime.

3. Refugees and asylees have different paths to permanent residency

The logical next step in the process for approved refugees and asylees is obtaining their Green Card, which allows immigrants to reside and work permanently in the United States. In the case of refugees, they are expected to file for a Green Card within one year after relocating to the United States. They are allowed to file for a status adjustment for themselves and their family without any sort of special requirement or filing fee.

While refugees have a straightforward path to citizenship, asylees have far more stringent requirements in order to obtain a Green Card. First, they must be physically present in the United States for a full year after having their asylum application granted. Also, the conditions of the asylee’s home country must be assessed in order to determine whether their circumstances still meet the threshold for asylum. Lastly, the government must determine whether there are any problems with the applicant’s admissibility to the United States. In order to begin the process of status adjustment, both refugees and asylees must fill out Form I-485 in order to apply for a Green Card; also, asylees with potential admissibility issues can file Form I-601, which seeks to waive admissibility concerns on behalf of the applicant.

This blog has covered some of the main steps that refugees and asylum seekers must take to adjust their status, as well as some of the differences between the two avenues. However, applying for either of these statuses is a complicated and drawn-out process; thus, no amount of independent research can replace the guidance of a representative with a thorough understanding of the refugee and asylum processes. Call Castel & Hall, L.L.P. at 617-716-6464 to receive an informed consultation from an experienced immigration lawyer.