When asylum seekers obtain asylum in the United States, they are also granted a certain number of benefits. However, before you apply for any of these programs and benefits, you are required to have completed the asylum process. In this article, you will learn about what asylum seeker benefits are available for you and your family.
Asylum Seekers’ Benefits
As an asylum seeker, you want to take advantage of all the benefits that the federal government offers to asylees. Some benefits include cash assistance through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), health insurance through Medicaid, food stamps, sponsorship for family, and other services offered through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
In addition, you can also get a driver’s license, future citizenship, job/work assistance, may travel or live (anywhere within the United States), and receive federal benefits and financial assistance (including college).
Asylum Seeker Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
You can apply and are eligible to apply for SSI benefits as long as you meet the qualifications and requirements. You must meet the U.S. definition of a "qualified alien" which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines as the following:
- A refugee admitted to the U.S. under Section 207 of the INA
- A person is given asylum under Section 208 of the INA
When you apply for SSI, you will need to show proof, of your asylum-granted status, to the Social Security Administration. To learn more visit Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Non-Citizens.
Asylum Seeker Healthcare Benefits
Asylum seekers and refugees get access to federal health care through short-term health insurance called Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA). This is available for you for up to eight months. You may also qualify for Medicaid. If you have children, you may also qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which usually lasts several years.
Asylum Seeker Resettlement Benefits
When you are granted asylum status, contact your local Refugee Resettlement Agency (RRA) to learn about what other benefits you may qualify for. They will help you to adjust to living in the United States and give you the tools you need to get started.
Benefits may vary depending on the state and the location of the RRA. The RRA also considers your family size, if you are working, or have any money saved up. Nevertheless, you should check with them. They may be able to help you for a limited amount of time while you get started.
They may help with (limited or short term):
- Cash assistance
- Housing and living expenses
- Help with applications for government benefits and services
- Assist you with signing up for English classes
- Assistance with employment services and job placement services
- Provide you with counseling services
Many of these services have specific eligibility, deadlines, and expiration dates so it's important to speak with someone who can help you. Visit the Office of Refugee Resettlement website to find one near you.
Asylum Seekers Working in the United States
When you are granted asylum, you are also eligible to work in the United States regardless if you have an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766/EAD). If you are unable to find a job, the Refugee Resettlement Agency may be able to assist and help you.
Can My Family Seek Asylum?
Yes, your family can seek asylum, but there are requirements before you can do that.
If you were admitted to the United States and granted asylum within the last two years, you can petition for your family as “derivative” Refugee or asylee status if they are:
- Your spouse (or)
- A child (unmarried and under the age(s) of 21 when you applied for asylum
You need to fill out and complete Form I-730, Refugee Relative Petition for them.
If your family came with you seeking asylum, then you can include them in your original application and it will be processed as part of your case. This way, you will all be asylees at the same time and will receive your notification of granted asylum status from the same application. For further details on the eligibility criteria visit the Derivative Refugee/Asylum Status USCIS section on their website.
Traveling and Reentering the U.S for Asylum Seekers
You can travel abroad and re-enter the United States as long as you receive permission from Immigration Services and have the proper travel documentation. You will need to file a USCIS Form I-131, Application for a refugee travel document. Keep in mind that this may take several months to obtain so ensure you plan accordingly. The refugee travel document has an expiration date and must be valid upon re-entering the United States. You may also travel anywhere within the United States.
Note: Do not return to your country of origin which you have claimed persecution and have fled from. If you do, this will raise suspicion and the U.S. government may assume that you are no longer afraid of returning to your home country and take away your asylum status.
Applying for a Social Security Card
Another benefit that is offered is that you can immediately apply for an unrestricted social security card once you have been granted asylum. Unrestricted does not place any restrictions on your employment.
An Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is not required to apply for social security, but it can be a useful identification document.
A social security card is important to have because employers will ask you to show proof that you are permitted to work in the United States. In addition, you will pay taxes and can apply for other public benefits with it.
To apply for social security, stop by your local Social Security Administration office or call 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You will need to bring proof of your granted asylum. After you apply, your social security card should arrive in the mail within a few weeks. Meanwhile, you wait for your social security card and keep your receipt in case you need to show proof to your employer.
Getting a Driver's License or a State Identification Card
Once you have been issued a social security card, you can apply for a driver’s license or a state identification card (ID) in the state where you reside. You are required, in most states, to have a current and valid driver’s license if you intend to drive on any road in the United States.
Can You Apply for FAFSA as an Asylum Seeker?
If you want to go to college but are not sure how to pay for it, as an asylum seeker, you can apply for federal financial aid on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website. As long as you received an approved status of either “Refugee” or “Asylee”, you can apply for FAFSA. The application will ask you for your immigration status so ensure that you answer that section carefully.
An application does not guarantee financial aid or money, but it can determine what grants and loans you may qualify for. Other benefits can also include scholarships or work-study programs. See financial aid benefits and scholarships for more information if you are a potential college student.
You Can Apply for Lawful Permanent Resident, a Green Card (One Year Later)
One year after you're granted asylum status, you can apply for lawful permanent residency, and a green card, by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Read How to Apply for Permanent Residence as an Asylee.
You Can Apply for U.S. Citizenship (Five Years Later)
Five years after being a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder), you can apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. Before you apply for U.S. Citizenship, check your eligibility on the USCIS website.
Asylum Seeker Benefits Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Main Benefit of Receiving Asylum?
The main benefit of receiving asylum is the legal protection that the United States provides. Asylees are seeking protection from persecution in their home country. However, there are other benefits accessible for asylees (who have been granted asylum).
What Benefits are Available for Asylum Seekers?
Some benefits for asylum seekers are cash through Supplemental Security Income or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, medical health insurance, food stamps, sponsorship for family, Eligible to apply for a green card (1 year later) and citizenship (5 years later), and other services offered through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Can Asylees get Social Security Benefits?
Asylees may apply for social security benefits as long as they show proof of their immigration status. Eligible refugees may obtain specific benefits depending on circumstances.