Every year, there are terrible events around the world that cause people to flee their homeland. Many of them make their way to the borders of the United States.
When going home is not an option, people sometimes end up as refugees. Others seek asylum. While the terms sound similar, they have distinct legal meanings.
What makes someone a refugee?
A refugee is anybody who fled their homeland and cannot return because of credible risks to their safety, whether that’s due to war, widespread persecution, famine or something else.
Refugees have the right under the 1951 Refugee Convention not to be returned to their homeland, but they have yet to seek official status in a new country. Critically, they must seek to be recognized as a refugee while still outside the borders of this country. Then, they may be admitted to the U.S. and start the process of immigrating.
What makes someone an asylum seeker?
Asylum seekers are people who have left their homelands due to human rights abuses or the fear of persecution and violence for some reason. They may be targets of gender-based violence, ethnic cleansing, political disputes, religious persecution and the like.
To ask for asylum in the United States, the people in question must already be within the nation’s borders, and they must seek asylum within a year of their arrival. If asylum is granted, they can then begin to build a life here.
Why does it matter? In general, refugees and asylum seekers have many of the same rights, and both can remain here for indefinite periods. However, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program prioritizes groups in different ways.
Asylum seekers and refugees have different obligations and responsibilities to maintain their status. Understanding where you and your loved ones fit in this equation can be a lot easier with legal guidance.