If you are applying for asylum in the United States, the main form you will need to fill out (whether filing on your own initiative or because you are in removal proceedings) is Form I-589. This is available as a free download from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Below are some tips on how to handle the various questions on Form I-589.
Be sure to answer all questions on Form I-589 as fully as possible. When USCIS or an immigration judge reviews your answers, it will look hard for inconsistencies. What’s more, if you happen to bring up new information during your interview or hearing, the examiners may doubt whether it is real, unless you can show good reasons why you did not include such information in your written application.
If there isn’t enough space to answer a question on the form, and there rarely is in the case of the questions requiring explanations, write “see attached sheet.” Then prepare your own statement—as many pages long as you want. The statement should be in your own words and be reasonably detailed (though not so detailed that you’ll get confused in retelling it at your interview).
For example, USCIS will not be convinced of your need for asylum if you merely squeeze in a short sentence like “I was persecuted by the government and am afraid to go back.” But an applicant who explains that “I was tortured by the local security forces after I joined the union and am terrified that if I go back they’ll kill me in the same way they killed many other union members” has a much better chance. And this is only the beginning—this applicant, for example, should include a history of his union involvement, a description of the torture, and an account of what happened to other union members. See our section on U.S. Asylum Laws to learn more about what the authorities are looking for.
Question 1 asks for your Alien Registration Number or “A #.” Normally, you will not have an A number unless you have previously applied for a green card, were paroled into the U.S., or are already in removal (deportation) proceedings. And for Question 2, you won’t have a Social Security number unless you’ve been in the U.S. with the right to work, and applied for one. If you do not have these numbers, leave the questions blank.
Questions 3-12 are self-explanatory, asking for personal information such as your name, contact information, and country of birth.
Question 13 asks for your nationality, or country where you hold citizenship. You can say that you are stateless if your nationality has been taken away from you and you have no legal right to live in any country. The fact that you might be arrested if you return to your home country, however, does not make you stateless.
Questions 14-16. Be sure that this information matches up with your asylum claim; if you are claiming persecution based on your religion, race, or nationality, this section should reflect that fact.
Question 17. Check Box a, b, or c to indicate whether you have ever been before an immigration judge; and if you have, consult a lawyer immediately, before filing this application.
Question 18. Box b asks for your I-94 number, which is the number on your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, showing the type of visa you received and the date by which you are expected to leave the United States. If your entry card is colored green, that means that you entered the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program; in which case, the U.S. Asylum Office does not have the authority to consider your application. It may refer you directly to an immigration judge for a hearing (removal proceedings) if you don’t have a valid right to remain in the United States. See an attorney for help.
These questions are self-explanatory, asking about your passport or other travel document, and your knowledge of English. If you are not comfortable speaking English, you should bring an interpreter with you when it is time for your interview at the Asylum Office. (But if you’re already in immigration court proceedings, the court will provide an interpreter.)
This section asks for information about your husband or wife, and children. Mention all of them, whether or not they are applying for asylum. You will also have a chance to check a box if you want your spouse or children to be included in your application—in other words, to win asylum along with you. (Most applicants check yes, but realize that this also comes with the risk that your spouse and children will be placed in removal proceedings along with you if you lose.)
Be aware that you must be legally married to your current spouse for him or her to be granted asylum based on your application. Your children will be given asylum along with you if they were unmarried and under 21 years old at the time that USCIS receives your asylum application.
This section asks about your past addresses and employment. Again, make sure that these dates and other information match up with your statement regarding your persecution and related experience. If your prior address was in a third country (not your home country) for an extended period of time, you will need to show that you were not firmly resettled there. In other words, you must not have been granted permanent residence or otherwise entitled to substantial benefits and privileges in that country. If you were firmly resettled, then you do not qualify for asylum in the United States.
Question 1. This question asks what basis you are seeking asylum on—that is, why your persecutor was motivated to single you out. In the top part of Question 1, you can check more than one box. If the first four boxes (race, religion, nationality, political opinion) don’t seem to fit—for example, you’re disabled or HIV positive, a female subject to female genital cutting, or a member of a nonpolitical club—your best choice may be “particular social group.”
Try to avoid checking nothing but the Torture Convention box. This means that you won’t actually be applying for political asylum, but only to be spared from removal (deportation) for a while.
For Questions A and B, your answer should be “yes” to at least B, and preferably A and B, otherwise you don’t qualify for asylum. Instead of trying to fit your answer into the spaces on the form, it is best to write “See my attached affidavit” and prepare an extended response on a separate sheet of paper. (When preparing the affidavit, be sure to put your name at the top to avoid the possibility that it gets separated from your I-589 and lost.
Question B is intended to find out what you think will happen to you if you return to your home country. Be as specific as you can, explaining how you will be arrested, tried by the military, sentenced to jail, put to death, or whatever consequence you might suffer. Again, it’s best to put all these details in your affidavit.
Question 2. This question asks whether you have been accused, charged, arrested, detained, interrogated, convicted, sentenced, or imprisoned in any country. Your answer to this question can help your case if the action against you was a violation of your human rights, for example if you were arrested and beaten for taking part in a lawful, nonviolent protest march.
However, your answer can hurt your case if it shows that you are a criminal and the government was merely taking appropriate, lawful action against you.
Questions 3A and 3B. These questions ask about your and your family’s involvement in organizations and groups, such as political parties, guerrilla groups, labor unions, and paramilitary organizations. It is very helpful to your claim if you can identify some group to which you belong. To succeed in your claim for asylum, you must have been persecuted for a reason—and that reason must be your connection with some identifiable group. However, if you identify yourself with a group that is known to commit acts of terrorism or persecute others, then your asylum application will likely be denied.
You must identify a group of which you are a member. If your persecution wasn’t because of your race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, you must define a “particular social group” of which you are a member. Describe the group as specifically as possible, such as “women who refuse to wear the veil,” “people who are descendants of the former ruling family,” “people with olive-colored skin,” or “people who live on the poor side of town.” It should be a group whose history of experiencing discrimination or persecution you can explain and document.
Question 4. This question asks whether you fear being tortured in your home country. The answer may be based on what happened to you in the past or what is happening to persons who are in similar circumstances.
Questions 1-2. These questions request information about any prior asylum applications and whether you were firmly resettled in another country before coming to the United States. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, consult with an asylum expert or attorney before filing your Form I-589.
Questions 3-6. If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, consult with an asylum expert or attorney before filing your Form I-589. One or more of your family members may be ineligible for asylum, as a persecutor of others, a criminal, someone who doesn’t really fear persecution in their home country (having gone back there) or someone who waited too long to submit Form I-589 (question 5). Don’t forget that there is a one-year time limit on applying for asylum; but consult with an asylum expert or attorney if a year has in fact passed since your U.S. entry, to see whether you fall under an exception.
This section requests your signature and information about the person who prepared the application. Keep in mind that a person who files a fraudulent application may be subject to criminal penalties and barred from getting any applications or benefits approved by USCIS and will probably be deported. There are also criminal penalties for failure to disclose one’s role in helping to prepare and/or submit an application that contains false information. Finally, USCIS may use the information on the application to deport you, if you are not granted asylum.
Leave these blank for now.
As you can see, Form I-589 is lengthy and complicated. Filling it out requires an in-depth understanding of the U.S. asylum laws and an ability to figure out which facts and details from your past experience will best convince the U.S. immigration authorities that you qualify for asylum. Your best bet would be to hire an experienced U.S. immigration attorney for help.