Many people find themselves in the U.S. after escaping from their home countries due to war or fear of persecution. Some of these immigrants become refugees and asylees in the U.S.

The U.S. immigration process for someone seeking to move from being a refugee to an American citizen can be long and difficult to navigate. However, with the help of an experienced immigration attorney, asylees and refugees can fast-track their way to becoming U.S. residents.

Read on to find out how the U.S. immigration system works and the steps you’ll have to follow to acquire legal citizenship.

Obtaining Refugee Status

Foreigners who want to become refugees in the U.S. should apply for refugee status while they are still in their home country. However, asylum seekers can request for asylum while they are at the U.S. borders, at the entry points, or inside the country.

The easiest way to get your U.S. refugee application considered is to be referred to the Refugee Admission program. The program gives priority to people referred to them by non-governmental organizations, the U.S. embassy, or other humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations. 

Priority is also given to special humanitarian concern groups recommended by the U.S. refugee program. If one of your family members is already in the U.S. on a refugee or asylee status, you also have high chances of being granted refugee status.

For your refugee application to be approved, you must show that you can’t stay in your home country due to persecution based on political, nationality, race, or religious factors. You also have to provide proof of persecution and give a detailed affidavit explaining why you are afraid to go back to your home country. 

Finally, you’ll have to undergo a medical exam and be investigated to prove you are not a threat to U.S. security.

When your application is approved, you will be issued with a visa, which you’ll use to enter the United States. If your refugee application request is denied, you cannot appeal the decision.

Seeking Permanent Residency Status

Before refugees can become U.S. citizens, they become permanent residents or green card holders.

The provision of a green card to a refugee is usually a lengthy and challenging process. However, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) assists immigrants and refugees looking to acquire green cards. An immigration attorney in Las Vegas can also help you acquire a green card.

For a refugee to be eligible to become a permanent U.S. resident, he or she must have been in the country for at least one year. When you become a permanent resident, they can live and work in America. 

Eligibility for Citizenship by Naturalization

Naturalization refers to the process through which a refugee or a foreign national gets U.S. citizenship. However, before a refugee can qualify to apply for citizenship by naturalization, he or she must have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for five years. 

The same case applies to asylees.

However, refugees may be eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization much earlier than asylees as the years of permanent residency are calculated differently. 

For refugees, the years they have stayed in the United States can be rolled back. This means that their five years of permanent residency can be calculated from the date they entered the country. 

For example, if you have spent five years in the U.S. as a refugee, and apply for a green card after five years, then you have already fulfilled the five-year term. This means that you are eligible to apply for citizenship when your permanent residency application is approved.

Coming to asylees, the application for citizenship is a little different than that of refugees. For the former, only one year of their time in the U.S. before permanent residency is approved can be included in the five-year term required for application for citizenship. 

For instance, if an asylee has been in the U.S. for four years and at the end of the fourth year, they decide to apply for permanent residency, once the residency is approved, only one year of the four years will count in the five-year citizenship requirement. Therefore, the asylee will have to wait four years before they can apply for citizenship.

Don’t Get Confused by the Green Card Date

Your green card will have the date your permanent residency was approved. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recognizes the rollback provision for refugees. Therefore, if you are a refugee, the green card will also have the date you gained entry in the U.S. 

If you are an asylee, the card will include a date one year before your permanent residency was approved.

The green card date is supposed to guide you on when your five years as a permanent resident in the U.S. elapses. Although you can’t rely exclusively on the date to apply for citizenship, you can use it to know if you have met the five-year citizenship requirement. 

The Early Citizenship Application Rule

The 90 days early citizenship application rule allows you to apply for citizenship 90 days before your five years of permanent residency have passed. 

The early application rule is based on the argument that the USCIS may not call you for your citizenship interview until the 90 days have elapsed.

Applying for Naturalization

Once you meet the legal requirements to apply for citizenship, you will need to submit an application form together with the necessary supporting documents and a $725 fee to the USCIS.

The IRC can help you to fill in the form and prepare the necessary documents. 

You’ll also need to take a biometric test, where the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice will carry out a background check. Once you are cleared, you will be invited to an in-person interview with USCIS officers. 

The USCIS officers may ask you questions related to:

  • Your background
  • The application
  • Your knowledge of the U.S. constitution
  • Your character 
  • Your willingness to take the oath of allegiance
  • Your ability to read, speak, and write English

Get Help from Las Vegas Immigration Attorneys

If you are applying for a refugee or asylum status, an immigration attorney can help you. You can ask the lawyer any questions you have about the process and what is expected from you. 

If you are already in the U.S. living as a refugee or asylee, a Las Vegas immigration attorney can help you pursue your permanent residency application. A skilled lawyer can make the application process easier. Moreover, the attorney will explain the proper procedure to follow and give you clear options to resolve any pending issues.

An immigration attorney will help you to fill the documents required to apply for citizenship by naturalization. The attorney will also guide you on the best way to prepare for your interview.