Asylum vs. Refugee Status: What is the Difference?

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Asylum vs. Refugee Status: What is the Difference?

Foreign nationals who leave their home country because they fear for their safety, or who are scared to return to their own country, can apply for special protections in the United States. The way to do this is by applying for either asylum or refugee status. Many people use these two terms interchangeably, but there are important legal differences between them. So, how do you know whether to apply for refugee status or asylum status? It all depends on where you are at the time of application.

Applying for Refugee or Asylum Status

If you are not currently in the United States and want to enter the country, you must apply for refugee status. Typically, this is done through the U.N. Refugee Agency, but you cannot specify which particular country you would like to enter.

If you have already entered the United States, whether on a visa or illegally, you must apply for asylum status. Applying for asylum status is often more difficult than applying for refugee status. 

Qualifying for Refugee or Asylum Status

You must prove two eligibility requirements when applying for either refugee or asylum status. You must first show that you cannot or will not return to your own country because you faced persecution there in the past or because you fear that you will face persecution if you return.

Unfortunately, facing persecution is not enough to obtain refugee or asylum status. You must also show that the persecution you will face is due to your religion, race, nationality, membership in a certain social group, or your political opinion. Although the terms religion, race, and nationality are fairly easy to understand, many people do not understand what the requirements of political opinion and membership in a certain group entail. 

Persecution based on political opinion means that you have certain opinions that the government or authorities in your home country do not tolerate. Typically, this means that you have been critical of the government in some way. When claiming persecution based on political opinion, you must show that the government or other authoritative body is aware of your opinion, otherwise you likely have no reason to fear persecution for it. Showing that you were outspoken at protests, or that you published anti-government sentiments can help show that you would be persecuted for your opinions.

Claiming persecution based on membership in a certain social group is much more difficult to establish. A social group is defined as a group of people with fundamental common characteristics that they cannot change, nor should they be expected to. Social groups must have specific boundaries for membership, and be recognized as a distinct body. Examples of social groups include certain ethnic groups, tribes, and certain social classes.

Our Illinois Immigration Lawyers can Help With Your Case

Applying for asylum or refugee status can provide you with the protection you need, but the process is not easy. At Kriezelman, Burton & Associates, our Chicago immigration lawyers are here to help. We can advise on which type of status to apply for, help you prove your case, and give you the best chance of a positive outcome. Call us today or contact us online to schedule a meeting with one of our experienced attorneys.