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 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 information during your interview or hearing that wasn't on the form, the examiners might wonder why. If it's crucial to your case, they might 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 fully answer a question on the form, and there often isn't, write “see Supplement B.” That's the last page of the form. Then, prepare your own statement—making as many copies of the supplement page as you want.
When it comes to describing the persecution you experienced or fear, your 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.
This is only the beginning—the applicant should also, for example, include a history of his union involvement, a description of the torture he experienced, and an account of what happened to other union members.
See U.S. Asylum Laws to learn more about what the U.S. authorities are looking for.
The following is based on the edition of the form that was issued by USCIS on 08/25/20.
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.
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.
Similarly, Question 3 asks for an online account number, which you'd have only if you submitted various other sorts of applications to USCIS in the past. If you do not have these numbers, leave the questions blank.
Questions 4-13 are self-explanatory, asking for personal information such as your name, contact information, and country of birth.
Question 14 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 does not, however, make you stateless.
Questions 15-17. 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 18. 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 19. 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 you entered the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program, the U.S. Asylum Office does not have the authority to consider your application. It can 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.
Questions 20-24. These are mostly self-explanatory, asking about your passport or other travel document, and your knowledge of English. If you are not comfortable speaking English, you will probably need to 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; and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government was providing telephonic interpreters for most languages.) With regard to your status upon entering the U.S., you will not be disqualified from asylum if you crossed the border without permission, in which case the appropriate answer is "entry without inspection," or EWI.
This section asks for information about your husband or wife and any 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 (or lose) asylum along with you. Most applicants check yes, but realize that this comes with the risk that your spouse and children will be placed into removal proceedings along with you if you lose.
You will be asked to describe each family member's "current status" in the United States. That could be the type of visa they entered on, if it's still valid (such as "B-2" for visitor) or EWI for an unlawful entry or "OOS" for out of status, meaning the person didn't leave the U.S. when his or her permitted stay expired.
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 received your asylum application.
This section asks about your past addresses and employment. Again, make sure that the 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 offered or granted permanent residence or otherwise been entitled to substantial benefits and privileges in that country. If you were firmly resettled, you do not qualify for asylum in the United States.
You'll also need to name your parents, brothers, and sisters.
Question 1. This asks for the basis upon which you are seeking asylum—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, or a member of a nonpolitical club—your best choice might be “particular social group.”
Try to avoid checking only the box other for Torture Convention. This means that you won’t actually be applying for asylum, but only to be spared from removal (deportation) for a while.
Questions 1.A and 1.B get into the heart of your asylum claim. 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 Supplement B” and prepare an extended response. 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.
Question 2. This 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 3.A and 3.B. These 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 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, 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 asks whether you fear being tortured in your home country. The answer can 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 request information about your history of 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, consult with an asylum expert or attorney before filing your Form I-589. You might not be eligible for asylum.
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 might 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 and can still apply.
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 can be subjected 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.
Don't forget to include a photo and other documents, as described in USCIS's instructions, found on the I-589 page of its website. There was no fee to file this form until October 2, 2020, at which time a $50 fee was imposed.
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.