Asylees & Refugees

Asylees & Refugees


Mr. Zonneveld has been helping asylees and refugees for more than 12 years, first as a caseworker for a refugee resettlement agency, then as a volunteer for the Advocates for Human Rights, and now for many years as an immigration attorney.  Our firm proudly defends the rights of those seeking refuge in the United States from persecution abroad.


Asylees are non-US citizens who are afraid to return to their country of nationality because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Asylum applications may only be filed by persons who are in the United States.  (By contrast, refugee applications are filed when the applicant is outside the United States.)  If the person is not in deportation proceedings, the application is filed with US Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) (called an “affirmative application”).  If the person is in deportation proceedings, he or she must file the application with the Immigration Judge (“defensive application”).

Under US immigration law, an individual must normally apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States.  If he or she applies more than one year after arrival, or fails to properly document the arrival (with evidence like I-94 cards or other US immigration documents, passport stamps, plane tickets, baggage claims, transportation records, itineraries, photographs and the like), the asylum application may be denied.  It is therefore especially important for asylum applicants to keep all records of their arrival in the United States as possible evidence.

If an affirmative asylum application is not approved, and the applicant has no valid immigration status, USCIS will normally refer the matter to the Immigration Court for further consideration.  There, in deportation proceedings, the applicant will have a chance to present his or her asylum application to a Judge.

In 2008, nearly 23,000 people were granted asylum in the United States.  This represents a decrease of nearly 9% from 2007 levels.

DID YOU KNOW?  According to TRAC, a research organization at the University of Syracuse, USCIS approved only 19% of all affirmative asylum applications from 2004-2008.  By comparison, Immigration Judges nationwide approved 40% of defensive applications from 2002-2007.  TRAC also reports that almost 86% of unrepresented asylum applicants – those without attorneys – have their applications denied.  Hiring a knowledgeable immigration attorney can help you navigate this difficult US asylum process.


Refugees, like asylees, are non-US citizens who are outside their country of nationality and who fear returning home because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

The biggest difference between refugees and asylees is the application process:  refugees apply for protection from the US government when they are outside the United States, and usually outside their home country, whereas asylees apply when they are in the United States.

More than 60,000 people were admitted into the United States as refugees in 2008.  This is a 25% increase over 2007 admission levels.  This may seem like a lot of refugees, but in the early 1990s, refugee admissions averaged more than 100,000 per year.

DID YOU KNOW?  In 2008, the top three countries of nationality for US refugee admissions were Burma, Iraq and Bhutan.  While most of these and other refugees applied on their own, when problems arise, a knowledgeable immigration attorney can provide invaluable assistance to the potential refugee and family members.

Both asylees and refugees are allowed to live and work in the United States indefinitely and apply for US travel documents.  Normally, they may also apply for permanent residence (a “Green Card”) after one year.

In some circumstances, a person may lose asylee or refugee status.  For example, the US government may terminate a person’s status if it discovers fraud in the initial application, if conditions in the home country have improved substantially or if the person returns to his home country or breaks certain criminal or immigration laws.  In some cases, refugees and asylees have been deported to countries they fled years earlier.

I-730 Asylee/Refugee Relative Petition

Principal asylees and refugees may also petition to bring their spouses and children to the United States.  These petitions are filed on form I-730.  Like other family petitions, the petitioner must prove his or her family relationship to the beneficiary with civil records, like birth or marriage certificates, or in some circumstances, by sworn affidavits from people with first-hand knowledge of the relationship.  In many cases, USCIS requires DNA testing before they approve I-730 petitions.

DID YOU KNOW?  In most circumstances, the petitioner must file the I-730 within two years of receiving asylee status or arriving in the United States as a refugee.  If you file after the 2-year deadline, USCIS may deny your petition.  A knowledgeable immigration attorney can help you prepare and file your I-730 petition on time and, in cases where the 2 years have already past, argue for an exception to the filing deadline.

For more information about other family petitions, Green Cards, deportation defense or consular/embassy assistance, visit these pages: