What Is an Asylee?

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on August 24, 2022

Categories: Asylum

Most people tend to use the terms “Asylee” and “Refugee” synonymously with each other. While it’s true that the two terms are related to each other, there are several important differences that you should be aware of. What are these differences, and how does it affect the status of asylees and refugees in the United States? Let’s find out.

What Is Asylum?

Asylum, as stated in the Immigration and Nationality Act, is a legal protection given in the United States to people who have fled from their home country due to persecution or a “well-founded fear of persecution.”

This persecution can come in various forms, including threats, harassment, violence, unjust imprisonment, torture, or even denial of basic civil rights. The persecution can be based on any of the following things—religion, nationality, political opinion, race, and membership in a particular social group.

Asylee vs. Refugee – What’s the Difference?

Even though the two concepts are fairly similar, there are certain key differences between an asylee and a refugee that you need to be aware of. These differences arise mainly in the procedure that is followed for each in the United States. Let’s examine the two concepts in more detail to understand the differences.

What Is an Asylee?

The United States receives a whopping 20,000 to 30,000 applications for asylum each year. These applicants come from all across the globe, with most asylum seekers from turbulent countries such as Venezuela, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Haiti. But who exactly is an asylee?

An asylee is someone who meets two specific criteria. The first criterion is that they must be under persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their religion, nationality, political opinion, race, or membership in a particular social group.

The second criterion that a person needs to fulfill to be called an ‘asylee’ is that they must be seeking asylum in the United States, i.e., they must already be within the confines of the United States or seeking admission to enter at one of the ports of entries.

What Is a Refugee?

The United States receives a large number of refugees every year as well. For instance, the number of people who sought ‘refugee’ status in 2014 was nearly 70,000, which is much higher than those who seek asylum every year. But again, the question we need to ask is, who exactly can be given the status of a refugee?

Similar to an asylee, a refugee must also meet two main criteria. The first criterion is the same as that of an asylee. In other words, they must be facing persecution, or at least possess a well-founded fear of persecution on the same grounds as we discussed above.

The second criterion, however, is where the difference between an asylee and a refugee comes in. To procure a ‘refugee’ status in the United States, the person must be strictly outside the country.

Once labeled a refugee, the person can be provided with admission for legal entry into the country. All refugee cases are treated as special humanitarian cases in the United States.

What’s the Difference?

As we have already discussed, refugees and asylees are quite similar to each other. However, the main difference lies in the fact that an asylee is already within the confines of the United Nations (or seeking entry at a port). In contrast, a refugee seeks protection when they are outside the United Nations.

Another important difference between the two is that a refugee must apply for a legal immigration status to be given protection. However, the same is not required by an asylee, which is why many undocumented migrants and DREAMers seek asylum to obtain legal status in the United States.

Steps to Become an Asylee

There are two ways in which someone can become an asylee in the United States. You can either apply for asylum through an affirmative application or a defensive application. An affirmative application is made on a voluntary or pre-emptive basis. In contrast, a defensive application is handed in by those who have been apprehended or detained by immigration enforcement. If you are trying to file a defensive application, it would be best to get a lawyer’s help to proceed.

In both cases, however, you need to remember that the deadline for applying for asylum is one year and that you need to have a concrete and real basis for seeking asylum.

Here are the steps you need to follow to become an asylee in the United States:

  • Fill in the application: First and foremost, you will need to fill in the USCIS Form I–589 (which is freely available on the official USCIS website).
  • Use the supplement page: To make a case for yourself, make ample use of the supplement page on the back of the application to elaborate on your fears and concerns.
  • Pay the fee: Until October 2020, there was no fee for sending in this application. Now, however, asylum seekers must pay a fee of $50 along with the application.
  • Attach the relevant documents: Attach whatever documents you can find to validate your experiences, including doctor’s reports to show injuries, as well as documents prepared by human rights associations that illustrate the turbulent status of your country.
  • Send the application: Send your filled application by mail to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Attend the asylee interview: Your final step would be to pass the asylee interview, where you will need to corroborate everything you have written in your application. The interviewers might also ask you questions to determine if you are really from the country you claim to be and whether the experiences you detailed were true or not.

After your interview comes the hard part — waiting. But if you want to see if your application status has been updated, you can use this guide to learn how to check your asylum application status.

If your asylum application has been denied, then your case will be automatically moved to removal proceedings. Here, you can make your case again before an immigration judge, where you can present your testimony and add in any extra information that could help your case through additional documents and witnesses.

If the judge still rules against you after this, you can continue to appeal against the decision, first to the Board of Immigration Appeals. If that doesn’t work, you can go to a federal circuit court, and then finally to the Supreme Court itself.

It’s important to note, too, that you can apply for asylum from outside of the U.S. and before you arrive.

Rights of an Asylee in the U.S.

An asylee in the United States has several rights granted to them. Some of the major rights are:

You can read more about the benefits for asylum seekers in the U.S. here.

Read More


Now you know the major differences between a refugee and an asylee in the United States. The difference, as you see, is mainly in the procedure that is followed in the country while providing legal protection. But regardless of whether a person is considered a refugee or an asylee, they are still provided safety and protection until it is deemed safe for them to return.

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