Asylum is a form of protection for individuals in the United States who fear persecution in their native country. Persecution includes a wide range of severe harm, including detention, physical mistreatment, and serious threats. To be eligible for asylum, the persecution feared must be from the government, or persons or organizations that the government cannot or is unwilling to control. Additionally, the individual must be targeted for persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Importantly, certain activities may make a person ineligible for asylum, including certain criminal convictions and terrorism-related activities.
Generally, individuals must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. There are, however, recognized exceptions to this rule, such as changed conditions in the individual’s home country or extraordinary circumstances that prevented the individual from applying for asylum earlier. If an individual is granted asylum, he or she may apply for permanent residency after one year, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Spouses and children under age 21 can also derive asylum status from the principal applicant if they are included on the application.