When Can an Asylee or Refugee Apply for U.S. Citizenship?
Updated: Mar 4
If you are an asylee or refugee
You must wait one year before applying for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.
After you become an LPR, you must wait a certain period of time, depending on the circumstances, before becoming a citizen.
Entering the U.S. as an asylee or refugee
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant you asylum, or refugee status, if USCIS determines that you are unwilling to return to your home country because you have been persecuted, or have a well-founded fear of being persecuted, because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. If the USCIS makes this determination when you are in the U.S., then you are an asylee. If the USCIS makes this determination when you are outside the U.S., you are a refugee. If the USCIS grants you asylum or refugee status, you are allowed to reside legally in the U.S. For further information on how to apply for asylum or refugee status, click here.
Becoming an LPR
If you are an asylee or refugee, you will first have to become an LPR. After you become an LPR, you will have to wait a specified number of years before you may apply for citizenship.
The process of becoming an LPR – and subsequently a citizen – for an asylee and a refugee, are similar, but not identical.
How to become a lawful permanent resident if you are an asylee
You must apply for LPR status
You must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after the U.S. grants you asylum
You must show that on the date you apply for LPR status, you do not want to return to your home country because of “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”
You must undergo a medical examination
If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires, you may need to sit for an interview with a USCIS immigration officer.
You must show that you are not “inadmissible alien.” There are a number of criteria that can make a person inadmissible for the purposes of the asylum statute. The list is too long and complicated to include in a post of this length, but you may be inadmissible if:
You have a “communicable disease of public health significance”, or you have not been vaccinated against certain diseases;
You have been convicted of certain crimes;
You are seeking to enter the U.S. to engage in espionage, sabotage, or terrorist activities;
Your admission would have “potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States”;
You are associated with totalitarian parties, genocide, torture, terrorist organizations, or recruitment of child soldiers;
If you are an inadmissible alien, then, in certain cases, you may ask USCIS to waive your grounds of inadmissibility “for humanitarian purposes, to ensure family unity, or when it is otherwise in the public interest”
To read the law on applying for LPR status as an asylee, click here.
How to become a lawful permanent resident if you are a refugee
If you are a refugee, the process of applying for LPR status is similar to that of an asylee. The key difference is one year after you enter the U.S., you must apply for LPR status. When you originally enter the U.S., USCIS will notify you of this requirement.
To read the law on applying for LPR status as a refugee, click here.
When an asylee or refugee can apply for citizenship
Typically, an LPR must reside in the U.S. for five years, before he may apply for citizenship. If the LPR is married to a U.S. citizen and is married to and living with his spouse for three years, the LPR must wait three years before applying for citizenship. For more information on the pathway to citizenship for an LPR, click here.
But, if you have been an asylee or refugee, you will have to spend less time residing in the U.S. as an LPR, before you may apply for citizenship. Here’s how it works:
If USCIS grants you LPR status as an asylee, USCIS will “backdate” your green card one year. Suppose you were granted asylum on January 4, 2019. Then, on January 4, 2021, USCIS grants you LPR status. USCIS will write, on your green card, that you have been an LPR since January 4, 2020. Thus, you will only have to wait five years after January 4, 2020, to apply for citizenship. Or, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you will only have to wait three years after January 4, 2020, to apply for U.S. citizenship.
If USCIS grants you LPR status as a refugee, USCIS will “backdate” your green card as of the date you entered the U.S. Suppose you entered the U.S. as a refugee on January 4, 2020. Then (as required by law) you apply for adjustment to LPR status on January 4, 2021. USCIS will backdate your green card, and write on your green card that you have been an LPR since January 4, 2020. Thus, you will only have to wait five years after January 4, 2020, to apply for citizenship. Or, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you will only have to wait three years after January 4, 2020, to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The U.S. government offers generous benefits to those who cannot return to their home country because of fear of persecution. One of those benefits is an easy pathway to citizenship. If you entered the U.S. as a refugee or asylee and would like more information about naturalization, the Persaud Law Office may be able to help you. Contact us today.