Refugee Status – Can It Lead to Citizenship


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People who leave their home country because of concern regarding their safety may be able to come to the United States. They may be able to receive legal immigration status. In some instances, refugee status may ultimately lead to citizenship.

Refugee Status

Refugees often come to other countries because they have to escape war, persecution or a natural disaster. Refugees apply for refugee status while they are outside the country. A refugee must be able to show that the refugee cannot return to their home country because of past persecution or because they have a well-founded fear that if he or she returns to their home country that he or she will be persecuted. The reason for persecution must be based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion or membership in a particular social group to qualify the immigrant for refugee or asylee status.

Permanent Resident Status

Refugees and asylees are eligible to receive permanent resident status after a year of being admitted to the United States. Refugees are required to apply for this type of status after a year. This status allows the refugee to work while living in the United States.

Application for Naturalization

Before most immigrants can apply for naturalization, they must be able to show that they had permanent residence for a specified period of time. For refugees and asylees, the minimum number of years that they have to be a permanent resident is five years. However, the way that these five years are calculated is much different for refugees than it is for asylees. It is important for refugees to understand how their time is calculated. Due to the rollback provision, refugees are often able to apply for naturalization much sooner than asylees can.

In order for a refugee to become a citizen, he or she must be in the United States for at least five years and have permanent residence for at least five years. Normally, the refugee can count his or her date of entry into the United States as the first date of their permanent residence as long as he or she is successful in receiving permanent resident status. The time that the refugee spends in the United States as a permanent resident will go toward the five years’ requirement for naturalization. This means that if a refugee spent five years in the United States as a refugee before applying for permanent residence status, he or she will have met the five-year requirement. This allows him or her to then apply for naturalization once permanent residence is approved.

Date on Permanent Residence Card

The date on a permanent resident card is typically the date the permanent resident application is approved. However, for refugees, USCIS back dates the green card so that the date of United States entry is on the card. Therefore, a refugee cannot rely exclusively on this date and think that he or she can apply for naturalization four years later. However, the refugee can look at the card to determine when five years have passed.

Early Application for Naturalization

Permanent residents can submit their applications for naturalization 90 days before the five years have elapsed. This 90-day period makes up for the possibility that USCIS may not act on the application for at least that period of time.

Asylum Differences

Refugee and asylum status are often confused with each other. Asylees have many similarities with refugees, including being persecuted for specific reasons as identified above. Also, asylees have to be permanent residents for at least five years before applying for naturalization just as refugees do. However, asylees are in the United States when they apply for this status, unlike refugees who apply for this status while in another country. The difference of when asylees can apply to naturalize is different than it is for refugees. After a year, an asylee can apply for permanent residence. However, only up to one year of their time can count toward the permanent resident time. Therefore, if an asylee waits three years to apply for their permanent resident card and receives it, he or she still has four more years to wait before being able to apply for naturalization.

Legal Assistance with Refugee and Naturalization

Individuals who would like assistance in applying for naturalization can discuss their case with an experienced immigration lawyer. He or she can explain the process of applying for refugee status and the requirements to convert permanent resident status to citizenship so that you are aware of your legal rights.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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