Refugee vs. Asylee: What’s the Difference?

Some people use the terms “refugee” and “asylee” or “asylum seeker” interchangeably. While they deal with similar issues, these words have different meanings.

A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her country because of war, violence, or persecution. Most often, they have to flee all of a sudden, without having any warning. The Syrian refugees are a well-known example. These individuals can’t go back home unless and until the conditions in their native countries are safe for them to do so. Here’s refugee is defined under the law:

(A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion . . . .

Thus, refugees always reside outside the United States, or other countries from which they’re seeking protection. Take for example the refugees in camps in the Middle East. Official government entities or the United Nations Refugee Agency will determine whether a person seeking international protection meets the definition of a refugee based on a well founded fear. Those granted refugee status are protected under international laws and conventions; they are then resettled in the countries offering them protection, and obtain assistance from certain organizations or the countries themselves. Indeed, they enter the countries designated as a refugee. In the United States, the president sets a cap on the number of refugees it will accept. President Trump has set the smallest limit, and continues reducing it. Last year, the limit was 30,000; this year it will be 18,000.

An asylum seeker is an individual who is likewise seeking international protection, but whose claim to protection has not been legally adjudicated. To seek asylum, an individual must be in the country from which he or she is seeking asylum, at a border or port of entry. Most asylum seekers in the U.S. have entered with a tourist visa or crossed the border without documents. None of these individuals has sought protection while living outside the United States. Asylum seekers must meet the well founded fear of persecution or past persecution to be granted asylum, and become an asylee.

The rights of refugees and asylees are similar but not identical. We do not refer to asylees as refugees; nor do we refer to refugees as asylees. These are two different processes; two distinct groups of people, even though both seek protection from persecution.

If you are an asylum seeker or you’re facing another type of immigration issue, the Sanchez-Roig Law team is here to help you. To learn about your options, give us a call at (305) 373-5385.