Individuals that have their application for asylum in the United States approved can apply to become legal permanent residents one year after being granted asylum. However, information regarding the process for obtaining permanent residency can be difficult to find and confusing to piece together. This goal of this post is to consolidate that information for individuals with asylee status, and provide guidance regarding how to adjust their status to permanent resident in the United States. The good news is that if you already have been granted asylum, you have already passed through the most difficult part of the process.
GENERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR OBTAINING PERMANENT RESIDENCY FOR ASYLEES
The general requirements for obtaining permanent residency after being granted asylum are relatively simpler than for other categories that qualify for residency. To qualify for permanent residency based on asylum, you must:
1. Have been granted asylum at least one year prior to filing your application for permanent residency;
2. Have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after being granted asylum;
3. Continue to be a refugee, or the family member of a refugee;
4. Are not firmly resettled in any foreign country; and
5. Are admissible to the United States as an immigrant.
The first two requirements are self-explanatory, and can be proven with submission of your I-94 and letter granting asylum evidencing the date of approval. Physical presence in the United States can be proven through copies of tax returns, pay stubs, a letter from your employer, copies of your lease or mortgage, medical records, and/or school records. The third requirement of continuing to be a “refugee” can be proven through the same I-94 and letter granting asylum. Very rarely does an officer question this requirement unless an individual has demonstrated that they no longer fear persecution by traveling to their home country, or engaging in other behavior that demonstrates that they no longer have a reasonable fear of persecution. For most asylees, the admissibility requirement is often the requirement that has the greatest potential to make the process more complicated.
GROUNDS OF ADMISSIBILITY APPLICABLE TO ASYLEES
Because an asylee is not subject to the grounds of admissibility during the asylum application process, it is during the application for permanent residency that most asylees must prove that they are admissible to the United States for the first time. However, the good news is that asylees are exempt from certain grounds of admissibility, such as the public charge requirement, which makes proving admissibility a little easier.
The grounds of admissibility that do apply to asylees can be summed up in three general categories: (1) health-related; (2) criminal and safety; and (3) immigration violations. The health-related grounds of admissibility are proven through the applicant submitting to a medical examination by a USCIS approved doctor. The doctor then completes the Form I-693, which attests to USCIS that the applicant does not have any medical condition that would render them inadmissible to the United States. A list of USCIS doctors in your area can be found at the following site: https://my.uscis.gov/findadoctor.
The regulations regarding criminal grounds of inadmissibility state that an applicant is inadmissible if they are convicted of certain crimes, including crimes involving moral turpitude (generally, a crime with the intent to cause bodily harm, fraud, or deprive an owner of property), a crime relating to controlled substances; multiple criminal convictions (with an aggregate sentence of over 5 years), drug trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, money laundering, or terrorist activity. If an individual has been convicted of any of these types of crimes, they would be considered inadmissible and ineligible for permanent residency. However, applicants can apply for a waiver for criminal grounds of inadmissibility for many of the crimes listed above, and while this process is complicated, the end result - if the waiver is approved - is that the applicant can become eligible for permanent residency despite having been convicted of one or more of these types of crimes.
In addition to the criminal grounds of inadmissibility, asylees may also be found inadmissible for prior immigration violations. Such violations include false claims of citizenship, immigration fraud or misrepresentations to obtain immigration benefits, and unlawful presence bars that could be triggered by a departure from the United States. A waiver of these grounds of inadmissibility may be available, and can be granted either through the application for a waiver, or by the adjudicating officer at the interview if one of these issues arises. Regardless, if you have a record of any criminal convictions or immigration violations, you should consult with an attorney prior to applying for adjustment of status to ensure your eligibility and the steps that need to be taken to overcome those issues.
ASYLEES EXEMPT FROM PUBLIC CHARGE GROUND OF INADMISSIBILITY
Fortunately, asylees are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility. The public charge ground of admissibility states that any individual “likely to become a public charge” is inadmissible to the United States and thus ineligible to become a permanent resident. Whether an individual is likely to become a public charge is determined by looking at whether an individual has received one more public benefit for more than 12 months, in total, within any 36-month period, and also by looking at the individual’s income and/or assets to determine whether they would likely qualify for public benefits.
However, since asylees are exempt from the public charge requirement, an asylee’s income and whether an asylee has received public benefits have no impact on their application for permanent residency. Asylees can apply for and receive public benefits at any time prior to or after applying for permanent residency without fearing that doing so will have an impact on their eligibility for residency. While the public charge rule has received a lot of media attention in the past year due to this administration’s changes to how the rule is interpreted, asylees are still exempt from the public charge requirement and the new rules have no impact on their application for permanent residency.
It is important to note that while receiving public benefits has no impact on an asylee’s application for permanent residency, it may have an impact on their ability to sponsor family members for permanent residency through non-asylum-based petitions. Beneficiaries of any family-based petition would still be subject to the public charge rule, and thus any petitioner who has received public benefits could be found to be ineligible to sponsor their family member. This could be overcome by having another person agree to co-sponsor the family member, but it is something to keep in mind throughout the process.
BECOMING A U.S. CITIZEN
Finally, after obtaining permanent residency based on asylum, an individual would become eligible to apply for citizenship 5 years after receiving their green card. While the journey from asylum applicant to U.S. citizen is long and often complicated, it is achievable. As mentioned, having been approved for asylum is the hardest part of the journey, and once your asylum application is approved the light at the tunnel that ends with U.S. citizenship becomes brighter and significantly closer.
If you have questions regarding how to apply for permanent residency after obtaining asylum in the United States, or any other immigration matter, please contact us at email@example.com.
*Please note that the information in this post is for educational purposes only. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law, but does not provide specific legal advice. Information contained in this post should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from an attorney.