If you feel unsafe in your home country, you may be eligible for asylum or refugee status in the US. If you are outside the US when you apply, you apply for refugee status; if you apply from within the US, you apply for asylum.
To qualify for asylum or refugee status, you must demonstrate that you have been or have a reasonable fear that you will be persecuted because of your race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.
To demonstrate persecution on the basis of your political opinion, you ordinarily need to have been politically active. If you have participated in political demonstrations or have published opinions that could result in persecution, you may be eligible. You may also claim persecution on the basis of political opinion if you’re a member of an ethnic group or religion assumed by the government in your home country to have certain political opinions.
Asylum because of social group membership is open to a lot of different interpretations. Women have sometimes been granted asylum in this category if they can demonstrate they are in danger of persecution, including forced marriage and domestic violence. People have also been admitted in this category on the basis of having a family relationship to a dissident or being a member of a persecuted class.
Applying for refugee status can be a difficult process. You must meet the qualification for one of the groups above, and additionally you must meet a series of other qualifications, usually including being referred by the UN Refugee Agency. If you’re in the US, you may apply for political asylum, which is a slightly easier process. To apply for political asylum, you must usually apply within a year of entering the US.
In most immigration categories there are quotas, but there are no limits on the number of people who may be granted political asylum. You must reside in the US for a year after having been approved for political asylum to be eligible to apply for permanent resident status.
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