Getting asylum status in the United States doesn’t automatically guarantee that you can live in the US permanently. There are some actions you can do or circumstances that can change or revoke your status as an asylee. Many people who are applying for asylum want to become US citizens or lawful permanent residents (Green Cards holders). Luckily, there is a path to US citizenship laid out for asylees.
Gaining Asylee Status
Applying for asylum doesn’t automatically grant you status, nor does a recommended approval letter. You are not legally considered an asylee in the United States until you’re granted final approval from the USCIS. Getting final approval and becoming a US asylee grants you some benefits immediately such as a social security number, the right to some government benefits, and the right to work.
This also starts the timer towards applying for your Green Card.
Applying for Your Green Card
Asylees in the US are allowed to apply for a Green Card one year after being granted asylum. During this one year period, it’s wise to gather some evidence you’ll need to present when applying for a Green Card, such as evidence of a lease, bills, pay stubs, or any receipts for government benefits. This evidence helps you prove you’ve been living in the US during the entire one year period.
While regular Green Card applicants have to prove they won’t be a burden to the government after receiving their permanent resident status, asylees don’t have this same consideration. Even if asylees are receiving government aid at the time of applying, they will not be hindered from getting a Green Card on that specific basis.
How to Apply for Citizenship
To be naturalized as a US citizen, you have to wait four years after receiving your Green Card. Other Green Card holders are required to wait five years, but asylees have the benefit of only needing four years between receiving a Green Card and applying for naturalization as a citizen.
You’ll be able to tell when you can apply because your Green Card will be “backdated” to one year before the true date of approval for permanent residency. From that date on your Green Card, count five years forward to find the date you may apply for citizenship. This backdating acknowledges that you were living in the US as an asylee for at least one year, which is what allows you to apply for citizenship earlier than other permanent residents.
You’re legally allowed to apply for the naturalization process 90 days before your required years are finished, because USCIS acknowledges it may not be able to act on your application within those 90 days. Often, it can take more than 90 days to get an interview and start your naturalization process.
Once your application is in, you’ll be put through the same citizenship application process as anyone else. It can be a rigorous and long process, but if you prepare well ahead of time the result may be naturalization as a US citizen.
Considerations for Asylees Seeking US Citizenship
During the naturalization process, USCIS will go over your entire immigration history and look for any discrepancies or inconsistencies. This includes looking to see if you had a bona fide claim to asylum in the first place, or if you may have potentially lied on your asylum application. They’ll base this off of your immigration history, your naturalization application, international travel history, and other information that’s available to them.
Because of the complexity of applying for naturalization as a US citizen, it may be a good idea for you to work with a US immigration attorney. My firm, the Law Office of Fady Eskandar, focuses on asylum law and can help you throughout the entire process from applying for asylee status to seeking naturalization. Get in touch with us for a consultation on your case.