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What is the difference between the refugee and asylum processes?

Asylum and refugee are terms that many might hear together. So, one thing one might wonder is: Are the asylum process and refugee process two different processes in U.S. immigration law, or just different names for the same process?

While the asylum process and the refugee process both regard foreign nationals seeking special immigration status in the U.S. in relation to facing persecution in their home country, they are two distinct processes under federal immigration law aimed at handling different situations.

One of the key differences between these processes regards where a person goes through them. The refugee process is for people who are currently outside the U.S. who are seeking protected immigration status in the U.S. in relation to having faced persecution. Meanwhile, the asylum process is for individuals who are currently in the U.S. (such as at a U.S. port of entry) who are seeking such protection. In fiscal year 2015, the U.S. admitted 69,920 individuals into the country on refugee status. The U.S. granted 26,124 individuals asylum that year.

So, if a person who is seeking immigration-related protection with the U.S. in connection to persecution they faced in their home country is already in the U.S., it will generally be the asylum process (not the refugee process) they will be going through. The asylum process also differs from the refugee process in what kinds of steps and rules it involves. Skilled immigration attorneys can advise people seeking asylum here in America on the unique steps and issues of the asylum process. Given the complexity and gravity of asylum matters, how quickly an asylum-seeker seeks out such guidance can end up mattering a lot.

Sources: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Refugees & Asylum,” Accessed May 15, 2017

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Infographics 2015,” Accessed May 15, 2017

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