“Asylum” and “refugee” mean a special status which may be granted to those who are persecuted or have fear that they will be persecuted on the ground of their race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group or because of their political opinion.

What is the difference between “asylum” and “refugee”? Who is supposed to apply for asylum and who for the status of refugee? The answer depends on where you are when you are applying. If you are applying being out of the U.S.A., you should apply for the status of refugee. If you already on the U.S. territory, you should apply for asylum.

If you get a status of refugee or asylee in the U.S.A., you can stay and work in this country for an unlimited period of time. You also can apply for a permanent legal residency (green card). However in order to be granted a status of refugee or asylee you must show that you meet certain criteria. You must demonstrate the following:

  1. You can no longer live in your country, because of persecution or well-founded fear of persecution in future, and
  2. The persecution or fear of persecution is on one of the five accounts:
    • race
    • religion
    • nationality
    • membership in a social group
    • political opinion

What is persecution? Persecution is usually associated with infliction of suffering or harm. Mere discrimination or harassment is not enough. For instance, search of the house or questioning by police do not rise to the level of persecution. There should be some level of severity. It may include oppression, punishment or other physical or psychological harm. A threat to life or freedom is always persecution. The most common form of persecution is the acts of causing or threats of causing serious physical harm like beating, torture, rape, kidnapping and confinement.

Persecution on the ground of race, religion or nationality means that your government is either engaged in persecution or encourages others to persecute you because of your race, religion or nationality. It is not enough to show that there are widespread persecutions on one of these grounds in your country. The applicant should prove that he or she is an immediate target of this kind of persecution.

In order to be qualified for asylum or refugee on the ground of membership in a social group you should demonstrate that you are a member of a particular social group and that you will be persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on your membership. The persecution has to affect all members of the social group.

If you are applying to get the status of asylee or refugee on the ground of you political opinion, you would have to demonstrate that the authorities either persecuted you for your political opinion or would persecute in future. This kind of persecution should also be individualized. It is not enough to have opinions that your country’s authorities don’t tolerate, i.e. to be critical about your government’s policies.

In addition to that the applicant has to show that he or she is not already settled on a permanent basis in a foreign country. If you are citizen of more than one country and you are persecuted in one of those counties, you are not qualified for asylum or refugee, because you can go to the other country.