Can You Apply for Asylum Outside the U.S.?

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • Asylum applications are only accepted from individuals physically present in the U.S. or at a designated port of entry.
  • Options for applying include submitting an affirmative application to USCIS or during removal proceedings.
  • Applying at a U.S. border is possible but may result in detention.
  • U.S. embassies or consulates do not process asylum applications; applying for refugee status through UNHCR is an alternative for those outside the U.S.

There is often a lot of uncertainty and confusion around asylum status in the U.S. and your options if you want to come to the United States out of fear of being persecuted in your own country. Do you have to come to the U.S. illegally and hope for the best? Or can you apply for asylum outside the U.S.? How do you even go about applying for asylum and proving your case to the immigration authorities?

In this article, we’ll answer the important question of can you apply for asylum outside the U.S. and clear up the confusion around U.S. embassies in the asylum process. 

Can Asylum Be Applied for from Outside the U.S.?

You can apply for asylum if you have been persecuted or have a credible fear of being persecuted based on your race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Unfortunately, the simple answer to can you apply for asylum outside the U.S. is no. You can’t apply for asylum from outside of the United States.

U.S. law says “any alien who is physically present in the United States, or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum.”

So, you can apply for asylum if you are in the United States illegally. But one important requirement you can’t get around is the physical presence requirement. You can only apply for asylum if you are in the United States.

What does this mean exactly? Must you have crossed the physical border already? How do you even get in the United States if you don’t have a visa?

Where can Asylum be Applied for?

Legally, there are two ways in which you can apply for asylum.

  1. From within the United States, or
  2. At an American border post or another port of entry (for example, an airport).

Let’s take a closer look at these two options.

From Within the U.S.

When you apply for asylum from within the United States, you can submit an “affirmative application” to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An affirmative asylum application has to be made within one year of entering the U.S. This is when you make your asylum application to get your legal status in the United States – not as a defense to your illegal status.

Alternatively, you can raise a claim to asylum if you are placed in removal proceedings by an immigration court. In other words, if you are being deported because you are in the U.S. illegally.

Of course, you ideally want to apply for asylum without any actions having to be taken against you for your illegal status. So how do you actually get to the United States to get asylum? It’s not like you can get an “asylum visa” to travel to the United States.

One of your options would be to apply for a tourist or other temporary U.S. visa. Then after you get to the U.S., you can apply for asylum. However, one possible challenge with this method is if you don’t already have a visitor’s visa, you need to convince the consular officer and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at the border you only intend to travel to the U.S. temporarily. This is a requirement for a tourist or business visa. Essentially, you’ll be lying if you only plan to get the tourist visa to seek asylum.

If you’re caught having lied to the U.S. government officials, it could have a negative impact on your asylum application or other possible immigration applications (like a green card) in the future. On the other hand, if you can get a good lawyer, they could help you argue this lie is in line with your legitimate fear of returning to your home country.

It’s not a good idea to get false documents to get into the U.S. Many people get caught while trying to enter the U.S. on false documents. If you get a record of using false documents, the officers assessing your asylum application may have a hard time believing anything in your application documents are true. This is called an “adverse credibility finding” in legal terms.

Many people also try to cross American borders illegally to apply for asylum. This isn’t a good option as it is really very dangerous. Many people die, and there is a good chance you’ll get caught. Although you can use this to prove you meet the credible fear requirement, there are many other significant risks involved.

At the U.S. Border

Perhaps if you are currently outside the U.S., your better option would be to apply for asylum at a U.S. border.

If you are the victim of persecution, you can show up at any U.S. border and port of entry and apply for asylum. Many people do this either at the border of Canada or Mexico. You may face a possible challenge with this option because you have to prove to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection official you have a credible fear of being persecuted. And even if they allow you to enter the U.S. on this basis, there is a good chance you will be detained while you wait for your asylum application to be approved. Being detained makes it challenging to get a good lawyer to argue your asylum case.

Applying for Asylum from an American Embassy

The purpose of an American Embassy is to serve as headquarters for representatives of the U.S. government in foreign countries. Unfortunately, it’s not an option to apply for asylum from a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate. These places are not in the United States. So, going to a U.S. embassy or consulate does not count as being physically present in the United States for the purposes of applying for asylum.

As a result, U.S. Consulates and U.S. Embassies don’t process any asylum applications. Many American Embassies also clearly state on their websites that they don’t grant asylum.

U.S. embassies and consulates do deal with other types of immigration matters, though. These include visa applications for tourists, for example.

If you have a legitimate fear of persecution and you find yourself outside of the U.S., you can consider applying for refugee status. If you become a refugee, you come under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you opt for this, you won’t be applying to the U.S. government, though. And you can be placed in any country. But the U.S. may be one of them. Or after you’ve been placed as a refugee, you can contact the U.S. embassy and apply for resettlement in the U.S.

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Unfortunately, you can’t apply for asylum from outside of the United States. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. You can apply for asylum even if you are in the United States illegally. Or you can apply at a U.S. border point. You can even consider applying for refugee status. You don’t have to remain in your home country in fear. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Is it Possible to Apply for Asylum Outside the U.S.?

Asylum is typically sought by individuals who are physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. While there are certain exceptions and programs like the Refugee Resettlement Program, the general process for applying for asylum involves being physically present in the U.S. Consult with legal experts or U.S. authorities for specific cases or alternative options for seeking protection outside the U.S.

2. What is the Process for Applying for Asylum in the U.S.?

To apply for asylum in the U.S., follow these general steps:

  • Physical Presence: Be physically present in the United States, either by arriving at a U.S. port of entry or being in the country.
  • Eligibility: Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria, including filing within one year of your arrival (unless you qualify for an exception) and demonstrating a credible fear of persecution in your home country.
  • Form I-589: Complete and submit Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).
  • Biometrics and Interview: Attend a biometrics appointment and an asylum interview with USCIS or an immigration judge. Be prepared to present your case and provide supporting evidence.
  • Decision: Wait for a decision on your asylum application. If granted, you can apply for work authorization. If denied, you may have the option to appeal.
  • Derivative Beneficiaries: If you included family members in your asylum application, they may be eligible for derivative asylum status.

3. Can I Apply for Asylum at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad?

In most cases, asylum applications are not submitted at U.S. embassies or consulates abroad. However, there are specific refugee programs and processes for individuals outside the U.S. seeking protection. It’s essential to consult with U.S. authorities or legal experts for guidance on seeking asylum or protection from persecution outside the United States.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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