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How To Get a Green Card as a Refugee or Asylee

Transitioning from being an asylee to a permanent resident (green card holder) in the U.S. can be daunting. Asylum seekers have gone through challenging times, being forced to be outside of their home country and unable to return because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, among others.

Note that refugees are individuals outside of their country of nationality. They are unwilling or unable to go back because of fear of persecution. While both asylees and refugees meet the same fundamental criteria of fearing persecution, the distinction lies in their location. Asylees are individuals already in the U.S. or seeking admission at its port of entry.

Upon arriving in the United States as a refugee, the local resettlement agency is the first place you should turn to for help. A participating agency from the Reception and Placement Program could sponsor you to receive approval for refugee status. This agency from the U.S. Department of State will ensure you are resettled with one of its local branches. It will give you initial services such as food, clothing, housing, orientation, and guidance to necessary medical, social, and employment services for your first 30 to 90 days in the United States.

Eligibility Requirements

Once you obtain an asylee status, you may apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) after a certain period of time. U.S. immigration laws require asylees to reside in the country for at least one year before changing their immigration status to LPR. This process is overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

If you are an asylee who wants to adjust your status to a lawful permanent resident, you should meet the four requirements:

  • You must be physically present in the United States for at least 1 year after receiving asylum status.
  • You must continuously meet the definition of a refugee. Or if you are a family member of an asylee, also called a derivative asylee,  you should continue to be the child or spouse of the principal asylee.
  • You should not commit to a firm resettlement in any foreign country.
  • You should be admissible to the U.S. as an immigrant during the time of adjustment of status.

If you fail to meet any of these requirements mentioned, you are ineligible to apply for adjustment of immigration status.

Certain waivers and exceptions may apply in each case. For instance, the requirements for minor or unmarried children differ from those for a married child. Furthermore, there are various grounds for inadmissibility to becoming an LPR. This includes the commission of criminal acts or violations of immigration law.

What Are the Benefits of Being an LPR?

Becoming an LPR from an asylee status offers a wide range of benefits. These benefits will allow you to embrace your life in the U.S. entirely. The following are the key advantages of obtaining an LPR status.

Greater Protection Against Deportation

As a lawful permanent resident, you are less vulnerable to removal or deportation than those with temporary status. Although some criminal acts and circumstances could still lead to deportation, the threshold for removal from the U.S. for permanent residents is higher.

Access to Government Benefits

LPRs are eligible to enjoy a wide range of government benefits. Included among them are education, social programs, and healthcare services. The status change will allow you to better integrate into society and take advantage of various opportunities.

Employment Opportunities

The LPR status will allow noncitizens to get jobs in the U.S. and enhance their career prospects. Once you have LPR status, you may work for various U.S. employers without needing an employment authorization document.

Travel Flexibility

LPRs are more flexible to travel compared to asylees. After acquiring the LPR statute, they may travel out of the country and reenter the United States more efficiently.

Path to U.S. Citizenship

After maintaining LPR status for a certain period, oftentimes five years, you may be eligible to become a U.S. Citizen. A U.S. Citizenship brings additional benefits, including authorization for government employment, voting in federal elections, and obtaining a U.S. passport.

Disclaimer: These benefits may vary depending on each case and the immigration policies in place. For more detailed information about the benefits of obtaining LPR status, you may refer to this legal resource by FindLaw.

Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

To become an LPR, you must submit Form I-485 or the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You may submit this form to the U.S. government agency called the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), overseeing legal immigration to the country.

The following steps will be helpful for you as you adjust your status from an asylee to a lawful permanent resident of the United States:

Step 1: Gathering of documents

Before beginning the application process, gathering all the necessary documents is crucial. The following is what you will need to include with your Form I-485.

  • I-485 Filing Fee: This fee covers the expenses of processing your Form I-485 application.
  • Form G-28: If applicable, you should sign this form, as well as your attorney or authorized representative. Facsimile signature stamps are acceptable for the signature of the representatives. However, applicants must sign Form G-28, submitted with the application in the original.
  • Form I-485: Signed Box "d" of Part 2 of the application should be marked. If the applicant is an Iraqi who processed through Guam, write "IRAQI/GUAM" in the margin.
  • Provide two photos in an envelope, stapled to the lower left corner of the main document, with the applicant's name and A-number, if known. If the A-number is unknown, the applicant may write the birthdate instead. Details on photo size, etc., may be found in the form instructions.
  • Evidence of Asylee Status. Evidence might include a copy of Form I-94 and a clear, readable copy of the letter granting asylum. If the immigrant was initially given conditional asylum, submit evidence to show that the conditions have been removed.
  • Form I-602: Application by Refugee for Waiver on the grounds of excludability, if applicable.
  • Evidence of one year's physical presence in the United States. Keep physical presence evidence to an absolute minimum. Evidence could include a letter of employment, a lease, school enrollment records, or similar documentation covering broad periods.
  • Proof of any absences from the United States since you have been granted asylum. For example, photocopies of pages in refugee travel documents or passports.
  • A birth Certificate or other birth record should be included.
  • Proof of any legal name change you have obtained since you were granted asylum status must be included.
  • Form I-693: Medical with Vaccination Supplement. Only a civil surgeon designated by USCIS to conduct medical examinations may complete Form I-693 and the vaccination supplement. To find a civil surgeon near you, you may visit the USCIS directory tool.

Step 2: Organizing Your Application Packet

Organizing and assembling all the documents you need for an application is essential.

Compile all forms and supporting documents if you are the principal applicant. If you are a derivative asylee, a spouse, or the principal applicant's child, you should also compile a separate set of documents. The USCIS provides detailed guidelines as to the filing forms by mail:

For filling through USCIS lockbox locations:

The USCIS asks applicants NOT to use heavy-duty staples when compiling documents. Instead, use heavy clips or fasteners to hold the documents together. You may also use two-hole punching at the top of the document for easy placement.

Filing directly with USCIS service centers:

When filing directly with USCIS service centers, do not use hole punch, staple, fasteners, binder clips, paper clips, or otherwise attach documents. Stapled or bound documents could cause delays in scanning the documents.

Separate each application by fasteners or rubber bands if you are filing multiple cases in one envelope.

Step 3: Payment

The check, money order, or Form G-1450 should appear on the first page of the assembling packet.

If you are paying by money order or check, write the applicable identification on the money order or check. This identification can either be the form you are filing or your A-Number. If you are paying with a credit card, complete Form G-1450 and place it at the top of your application or petition.

If you are filing multiple applications, the USCIS recommends separate payments. If you submit payments all at once and the USCIS rejects one of the applications, all other applications will be rejected.

Lastly, pay the correct fee. The USCIS will reject forms submitted with incomplete or incorrect fees. You can use the USCIS Fee Calculator to determine how much you need to pay.

Step 4: Where to File

An asylee or refugee should mail all application documents to USCIS P.O. Boxes. When filing, the addresses to mail your application will depend on your state of residence. USCIS provides the list of addresses for those filing with refugee or asylum status and status under HRIFA as a dependent.

Step 5: When to File

You are eligible to adjust your status from asylee to lawful permanent resident status in either one of these conditions:

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for a minimum of one year after the date you were granted asylum status
  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after your admission into the United States with refugee status

Contact an Immigration Law Attorney

Navigating the complexities of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the intricate rules of immigration law can be challenging. The process involves the submission of legal requirements and following specific guidelines. Each step is crucial in deciding your case as to whether you can legally stay in the country. Given these complexities, it's advisable to seek specialized legal advice from an immigration attorney. They can give you the proper guidance with the processes involved in your case, and can also assist you or your family members in filing for nonimmigrant or immigrant visas.

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