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What are the Differences Between Refugees and Asylees?

Oftentimes, people think of refugees and asylees as the same. On paper, the differences between them may not be very clear because they are frequently used together, either in the papers or on TV. But, as you might have guessed, being a refugee means something different than being an asylee. A person who requests asylum (i.e. protection from another country outside of their own) in the United States is called an asylee. This is in contrast to a person who has not yet entered the U.S., but who requests protection and is then given permission to enter the U.S. as a refugee (i.e. a displaced person who has been forced to cross international borders and who cannot return home safely) and is therefore called a refugee. Refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who can demonstrate a certain set of requirements. Both refugee and asylum seekers must show that:

  1. They can no longer live in their home country because of a reasonable fear or proof they will be persecuted, and

  2. The reason for their persecution is related to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion.

For both groups, “persecution” refers to anything from threats and harassment to violence and torture. So how are they actually different? Can someone ever be both? Let’s discuss below. Refugees As we mentioned above, a refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to leave their home, cross international borders, and is unable to return home safely. Achieving refugee status in the U.S. means that you have been granted a form of protection if you meet the definition of refugee and if you are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. The U.S. government has very tight restrictions on who can be labeled a refugee over an asylee and each year, the President actually determines how many refugees are to be allowed to enter the U.S. Despite this though, many more people enter the U.S. as refugees instead of asylees. You may seek a referral for refugee status only from outside of the United States. In order to be a refugee in the U.S.:

  1. You must fit the requirements regarding persecution (e.g. you have suffered or would suffer threats, harassment, or violence)

  2. You must seek and secure refugee status while you are still outside the United States because you cannot seek refugee status once you are inside.

  3. Your case is of special humanitarian concern to the United States.

  4. You can be labeled admissible for legal entry into the United States.

Refugees must also apply for a green card, which grants its holder status as a legal permanent resident after one year in the U.S., while asylees have the option to. If they do so, then both receive the same rights as other green card holders. Asylees Like refugees, asylees are seeking help and protection, as well as the ability to remain in the U.S. One important difference for asylees though is that they do not need to have legal immigration status in order to apply for protection. This means that you can apply for asylum regardless of your country of origin or your current immigration status. It’s for this reason why it’s a popular method for undocumented immigrants, a.k.a. those who don’t have any other alternatives, to seek legal status. In order to seek and qualify for asylum in the U.S. you must

  1. Fit the same requirements of living under threat of persecution as a refugee, and

  2. Already be present in the United States or be seeking admission to the U.S. at a port of entry.

Finally, asylum can be applied for in one of two ways: 1) affirmatively (voluntarily or preemptively) or 2) defensively. Defensive applicants are those who ask for asylum because they were detained or apprehended by immigration enforcement. Seeking asylum or refugee status can be an intimidating and confusing process.

At JP Law Group, we are determined to advocate for you and your rights to remain in this country. If you or someone you love needs help in seeking asylum or refugee status, please don’t hesitate to contact us today at (305) 615-1005.

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