Asylee Government Benefits: Now what?

Now that you have successfully received asylum what benefits can you expect?

Congratulations! You have received political asylum either from the Asylum Office or from the Immigration Court. This means that you have been granted ASYLEE status INDEFINITELY. You should have the most important document, a Form I-94, which indicates that you have been granted ASYLEE status indefinitely and the date when you were granted Asylum. This document must be kept in a safe place and we recommend that you carry a photocopy around with you at all times.

Date of Grant of Asylum

This is a very important date for two main reasons:

  1. Exactly one year from this date you can apply for a green card or lawful permanent resident status.
  2. You are entitled to 8 months of government benefits beginning with the month in which you were granted asylum

Relatives overseas

You have two years from the grant of your ASYLEE status to file for your overseas spouse and minor children. You would need to file Form I-730. No government filing fee is required.

Social Security Number and Driver’s License

You can now present your original Form I-94 with indefinite grant of ASYLEE status to the local Social Security office to obtain an unlimited Social Security Number. Similarly you can now apply for a Driver’s License. In most states, including California, the original Form I-94 is sufficient documentation to present to apply for a Driver’s License.

Government Benefits

During the entire 8 months from the date you were granted asylum you are entitled to three government benefits in the state of California:

  1. Cash Aid
  2. Food Stamps
  3. Medi-Cal

Under Medi-Cal you are entitled to a no-cost or low-cost comprehensive health assessment including immunizations, a mental health assessment, and certain blood tests. It is important that you take advantage of this benefit because when you apply for the green card you will be required to have a medical exam and certain vaccinations that will not be covered by Medi-Cal (your Medi-Cal benefits expire after 8 months and you cannot apply for the green card until one year after the initial grant of your asylee status.)

Other Benefits

If you are over age 65 or legally blind you may be eligible for SSI benefits.

To apply for the government benefits you would need to inquire at the local Social Services office.

Employment

You should receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that is valid for two years. It is called a Form I-766. Although you can use this document to establish your identity and authorization to work, you should know that it has a two year expiration date.

When you are first hired by your employer, you are required to complete a Form I-9. This form is required for all new hires including U.S. citizens. You will need to establish two things: 1. Your identity; and 2. Your authorization to work in the U.S. The EAD can be used for that purpose, except that it has an expiration date for two years down the road. If you don’t have your green card by then you would need to pay $340 to renew your EAD to keep your I-9 form current.

Alternatively you can present other documents to establish identity and authorization to work which do not have an expiration date. As the employee, you have the right to choose which documents to present. Here is the link to the Form I-9 and the list of acceptable documents you can choose from to establish your identity and authorization to work: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf

U.S. Taxes

You are now required to file a Federal and State Income tax each year. This is particularly important in terms of applying for the green card and U.S. citizenship down the road. You can find information about how to file your taxes on line at: http://www.irs.gov/

Travel

USCIS takes the position that using the passport of the country from which you have claimed asylum indicates that you are traveling under that country’s protection – grounds for USCIS to take away your ASYLEE status and even your green card status when you are granted green card status. Similarly, traveling back to the country from which you have asked the U.S. government for protection can also be interpreted by USCIS as indicating that you no longer fear persecution by that country – another ground for USCIS to revoke your ASYLEE or green card status. Our advice is to avoid traveling on your passport and to avoid traveling to your home country (or country where you fear persecution) until you obtain U.S. citizenship.

In order to travel overseas you should apply for a Refugee Travel document by submitting Form I-131 to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center office. The fee for this document is $310. The Refugee document is valid for one year. If you wait until you apply for the green card, you will be able to apply for the Refugee Travel document at no extra charge above the green card filing fee (currently $1010 for individuals over age 14.)

The Refugee Travel Document can be used in place of a foreign passport and will allow you to travel overseas and re-enter the U.S. However, you should check the rules for each country by calling the country’s Embassy or local Consulate to see if you will need a visitor’s visa to enter the country you wish to visit.

Green Card

One year from the date of the grant of your ASYLEE status you can apply for a green card. The green card gives you the right to work and live in the U.S. indefinitely. However, you may not vote and there are certain restrictions in terms of physical presence and maintenance of residence in the U.S. that you should be aware of so as to not lose your permanent resident status and to be able to accumulate sufficient physical presence and continuous residence to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. We recommend that anyone with a green card consult with an immigration attorney before traveling and planning to remain overseas for more than six months.

When you apply for the green card you will be required to go to an interview. At the conclusion of the interview, if all of your evidence is in order, and if you have no criminal or health issues you should be granted green card status.

Important date: When you receive your green card it will have a date showing the grant of your green card ONE YEAR earlier than the actual grant of your green card status. This is because most green card holders can apply for citizenship after five years of continuous permanent resident status, as long as you satisfy certain other requirements. ASYLEES, however, are given an extra benefit by the U.S. government. Because the green card is backdated by one year, you can actually file four years from the grant of the green card (five years according to the date on the green card.) For additional information on how to maintain green card status after you obtain it, please contact our office for a free brochure or read the guide on our website.

U.S. Citizenship

We recommend that all permanent residents apply for naturalization as a U.S. citizen, because of the many benefits associated with citizenship, including the right to vote and the right to travel wherever you wish with no questions asked by the U.S. government.

To qualify you must demonstrate continuous residence, physical presence in the U.S., good moral character and knowledge of English and U.S. history, geography and government. We recommend that you review our citizenship outline for more details on the benefits of citizenship as well as the rules for application. Please contact our office for a free brochure on the benefits of citizenship as well as an outline of the rules.

Article categories: Political Asylum

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