The One-Year Asylum Filing Deadline and What to Do About It
by JASON DZUBOW on JANUARY 18, 2018
The law requires that people who wish to seek asylum in the United States file their applications within one year of arriving here. See INA § 208(a)(2)(B). Those who fail to timely file are barred from asylum unless they meet an exception to the rule (they may still qualify for other—lesser—humanitarian benefits such as Withholding of Removal and relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture).
If you arrived in the U.S. on this day, you are still eligible to apply for asylum, even if it seems like a hundred years ago.
So why do we have this rule? And what are the exceptions?
Congress created the one-year bar in 1996. Its ostensible purpose is to prevent fraud. If you really fear return to your home country, the theory goes, one year should be enough time to figure things out and get your application filed.
For most people, I suppose that this is true—they can ask questions, find help, and file for asylum within a year. But this is easier for some than for others. People who are less educated, people whose life experiences have taught them to mistrust and avoid authority, people who are isolated and socially disconnected, people who are depressed; such people might have a harder time with the one-year bar (and of course, many of these characteristics are common among asylum seekers). Others will have an easier time: Well-educated people, people who speak English, people who have a certain level of self-confidence, and people who are engaged with the community.
There are also certain populations that seem to have difficulty with the one-year rule. At least in my experience, many LGBT asylum cases were filed after the one-year period. I suspect there are several reasons for this. For one, an immigrant’s primary connection to mainstream America is her community in the U.S. But if she is afraid to reveal her sexuality to her countrymen living here, and she cannot get their help with the asylum process, she may be unable to file on time. Also, there is the coming-out process itself. People in certain countries may not have even conceptualized themselves as gay, and so the process of accepting their own sexuality, telling others, and then applying for asylum may be lengthy and difficult.
Asylum seekers like those discussed above are sometimes blocked by the one-year rule, but in these cases, the rule is not preventing fraud; it is harming bona fide applicants.
Where the rule seems more likely to achieve its intended purpose is the case of the alien who has spent years in the United States without seeking asylum, and now finds himself in removal proceedings. Such aliens often file for asylum as a last-ditch effort to remain in the U.S. (or at least delay their deportation). Many people from Mexico and Central America are in this position, and the one-year rule often blocks them from obtaining asylum (in addition, such applicants often fear harm from criminals; this type of harm does not fit easily within the asylum framework and contributes to the high denial rate for such cases).
Although there may be situations where the one-year bar prevents fraud, the vast majority of immigration lawyers—including this one—think it does little to block fake cases, and often times prevents legitimate asylum seekers from obtaining the protection they need. In short, we hate this rule, and if I ever become king, we will find other, more effective ways, to fight fraud. Until then, however, we have to live with it.
So for those who have missed the one-year filing deadline, what to do?
There are two exceptions to the one-year rule: Changed circumstances and extraordinary circumstances. See INA § 208(a)(2)(D). If you meet either of these exceptions, you may still be eligible for asylum. Federal regulations flesh out the meaning of these concepts. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 208.4(a)(4) & (5). First, changed circumstances–
(4)(i) The term “changed circumstances” … refer to circumstances materially affecting the applicant’s eligibility for asylum. They may include, but are not limited to: (A) Changes in conditions in the applicant’s country of nationality or, if the applicant is stateless, country of last habitual residence; (B) Changes in the applicant’s circumstances that materially affect the applicant’s eligibility for asylum, including changes in applicable U.S. law and activities the applicant becomes involved in outside the country of feared persecution that place the applicant at risk; or (C) In the case of an alien who had previously been included as a dependent in another alien’s pending asylum application, the loss of the spousal or parent-child relationship to the principal applicant through marriage, divorce, death, or attainment of age 21.
(ii) The applicant shall file an asylum application within a reasonable period given those “changed circumstances.” If the applicant can establish that he or she did not become aware of the changed circumstances until after they occurred, such delayed awareness shall be taken into account in determining what constitutes a “reasonable period.”
It is a bit unclear how long this “reasonable period” is. A few months is probably (but no guarantee) ok, but six months is probably too long. So if there are changed circumstances in your case, the sooner you file for asylum, the better.
The regulations also define extraordinary circumstances–
(5) The term “extraordinary circumstances” … shall refer to events or factors directly related to the failure to meet the 1-year deadline. Such circumstances may excuse the failure to file within the 1-year period as long as the alien filed the application within a reasonable period given those circumstances. The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish… that the circumstances were not intentionally created by the alien through his or her own action or inaction, that those circumstances were directly related to the alien’s failure to file the application within the 1-year period, and that the delay was reasonable under the circumstances. Those circumstances may include but are not limited to:
(i) Serious illness or mental or physical disability, including any effects of persecution or violent harm suffered in the past, during the 1-year period after arrival;
(ii) Legal disability (e.g., the applicant was an unaccompanied minor or suffered from a mental impairment) during the 1-year period after arrival;
(iii) Ineffective assistance of counsel….
(iv) The applicant maintained Temporary Protected Status, lawful immigrant or nonimmigrant status, or was given parole, until a reasonable period before the filing of the asylum application;
(v) The applicant filed an asylum application prior to the expiration of the 1-year deadline, but that application was rejected by the Service as not properly filed, was returned to the applicant for corrections, and was refiled within a reasonable period thereafter; and
(vi) The death or serious illness or incapacity of the applicant’s legal representative or a member of the applicant’s immediate family.
Again, if you have extraordinary circumstances, you must file within a “reasonable period.” How long you have to file has not been clearly defined, so the sooner you file, the safer you will be in terms of the one-year bar.
When it comes to asylum, the best bet is to file within one year of arrival. But if you have missed that deadline, there are exceptions to the rule. These exceptions can be tricky, and so it would probably be wise to talk to a lawyer if you are filing late. It is always a shame when a strong asylum case is ruined by a one-year issue. Keep this deadline (emphasis on “dead”) in mind, and file on time if you can.
In the outstanding tradition of former Arlington Immigration Court Judicial Law Clerks, Jason thinks creatively and writes clearly.