Form I-589 Asylum Application and Removal Withholding Guide

If you are considering asylum in the United States, you must submit Form I-589, the official application for asylum and withholding of removal (formerly known as withholding of deportation). 

Form I-589 is your key to seeking protection in the U.S. if you’ve fled persecution in your home country. Persecution reasons can include race, religion, nationality, group affiliations, or political opinions. As an asylum applicant, you’ll use this form to detail your reasons for fearing persecution and requesting haven in the United States.

This I-589 guide will cover everything from eligibility requirements and deadlines to where to file and how to gather supporting evidence, so read on to learn more about the I-589 petition and begin building your asylum case!

What Is Form I-589?

The I-589 petition form is your official application for asylum and removal withholding with USCIS. By filing Form I-589, you’re formally requesting protection from the U.S. government and the opportunity to remain here legally. If your application is approved, you’ll be granted asylum status, allowing you to live and work safely in the United States with an employment authorization document.

IMPORTANT! You generally have one year from your arrival in the U.S. to file Form I-589. Missing this deadline could impact your eligibility for asylum! Remember that if you entered the United States illegally or overstayed a visa, you could face deportation or arrest by immigration authorities. This guide will not address the legalities of your entry into the U.S., but it will focus on applying for asylum with Form I-589.

What Are the Benefits of Filing Form I-589?

Beyond seeking asylum, this form allows you to apply for withholding of removal, which prevents you from being sent back to a country where you face persecution. Additionally, you can request protection under the Convention Against Torture if you have reason to believe you’d be tortured upon return to your home country.

Suppose you are wondering about the difference between asylum and withholding of removal. In that case, the answer is simple: Unlike asylum, which offers a chance to stay and potentially gain permanent residency, withholding of removal focuses solely on preventing you from being sent back to a dangerous situation. It’s a mandatory protection, meaning if you meet the strict requirements, you won’t be returned to a country where you face persecution or torture. As you can quickly figure out, obtaining withholding of removal is more demanding than getting asylum because the burden of proof is higher.

Who Is Eligible to Submit Form I-589? Beneficiaries' Requirements for Affirmative Asylum

The first step in your I-589 affirmative asylum application process is understanding who qualifies to submit Form I-589 with USCIS.

Eligibility Criterion 1: Your Citizenship and Location

First things first, to apply for asylum with USCIS, you must meet these two essential requirements:

  1. You are not a U.S. citizen: This may seem obvious, but it’s important to confirm. You cannot apply for asylum if you already hold U.S. citizenship.
  2. You are physically present in the United States: You must be physically located in the United States to apply. USCIS cannot accept applications from individuals outside the country.

Eligibility Criterion 2: Your Immigration Status

Your immigration situation is a crucial I-589 requirement, so read this section twice if you must, as long as you understand what USCIS asks from you:

1. You Never Had an Alien Number (A-Number)

An A-number is a unique identification number assigned by USCIS to people involved in certain immigration processes. If you’ve never been involved in the U.S. immigration system and haven’t received an A-Number, you can still apply for asylum with USCIS using Form I-589.

2. You Have an A-Number, But You Are Not in Immigration Court

If you do have an A-Number, that’s okay. You can still apply with USCIS if you’re not involved in any removal (deportation) proceedings before an immigration judge. These proceedings are handled by a separate agency – the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

3. You Are an Unaccompanied Minor in Removal Proceedings

This situation is a bit more complex. Suppose you’re a minor who came to the United States alone (unaccompanied alien child) and are currently facing deportation. In that case, a chance to apply for asylum with USCIS might still exist. However, you must seek an immigration attorney to help you with your options.

IMPORTANT! If you are already in removal (deportation) proceedings before an immigration judge (meaning you’re in court fighting deportation), you cannot apply for asylum with USCIS. In this case, you must file your asylum application through the immigration court itself.

Applying for Asylum with Existing Legal Status

If you’re in the U.S. with a legal visa, like a work permit or student visa, and considering asylum, the one-year filing deadline might not apply as strictly to you.  

Here’s the good news:  USCIS usually understands that being in a legal immigration status can be a reason to delay your asylum application. They often consider this an “exceptional circumstance” and might allow you to file even after a year. 

Here’s the catch: even though the deadline might be flexible, it’s important to still apply for asylum as soon as possible after your legal status expires or ends. If you wait too long after your visa runs out, you might no longer be eligible for asylum.

IMPORTANT! Having a legal visa gives you some wiggle room on the deadline, but don’t wait too long after it expires to file for asylum!

As you can easily understand, these are just the initial requirements to file Form I-589. Obtaining asylum requires more than just meeting these basic criteria. You must demonstrate that you have suffered past persecution or have a justifiable fear of persecution in your home country based on your political beliefs, race, religion, nationality, social group membership, etc. 

Read this I-589 guide further to clarify the important issues you must consider for your affirmative asylum application!

What Edition of Form I-589 Must You File with USCIS?

When applying for asylum with Form I-589, you must use the latest edition available when you submit your application. USCIS periodically updates the form and only accepts applications on the most recent version. 

The edition date is marked at the bottom of each page of Form I-589 and its instructions. For instance, the current edition date is March 1, 2023 (03/01/23), and it will expire in 2026.

USCIS relies on the latest form edition to ensure they receive the most up-to-date information and streamline your application’s processing. Using an outdated version could lead to delays or even rejection of your application.

Here’s what you can do to avoid any issues:

  • Download the latest Form I-589 directly from the USCIS website. This guarantees you’re using the most recent edition. 
  • If you download the I-589 PDF form from a third party, double-check the edition date printed at the bottom of each page before filling it out.

We recommend using the USCIS asylum application whenever possible, as it eliminates the risk of using an outdated version.

Where to File the I-589 Application for Asylum with USCIS

If you meet the asylum-seeking requirements we discussed, you can take the next step and file your Form I-589 with USCIS. You can submit your petition in two ways: online or by mail. The best option for you depends on your situation.

Filing I-589 Affirmative Asylum Petition Online

It is the easiest and fastest way to submit your application, and we recommend using the online option whenever possible as long as you meet the specific USCIS criteria. 

You cannot file online if:

  • You are a minor who came to the U.S. alone (unaccompanied alien child).
  • Your removal (deportation) proceedings were previously dismissed or terminated.
  • Homeland Security gave you a Notice to Appear (Form I-862), but it wasn’t filed with the immigration court, and you haven’t been in court proceedings.
  • Your asylum application falls under a special category as defined by USCIS.

Filing I-589 Affirmative Asylum Petition by Mail

If you fall into any category listed above, you must mail your application to a specific address. The exact address depends on your state and your situation.

Don’t worry; USCIS offers a tool to help you find the correct address! The Filing Instructions Tool will guide you to the correct address based on your answers to a few simple questions.

You must understand there are a few special situations where your application needs to be sent to a specific location. For instance, if you were previously granted asylum but lost your status, your application might need to go to a different address. Use USCIS’s page Where to Submit Your Form I-589 to learn where to send your asylum-seeking petition, depending on your situation.

How to Apply for Affirmative Asylum: Filing Form I-589 Step-by-step Guide

Fleeing oppression and seeking asylum in America can be a daunting process, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Let’s walk together through every step of filing Form I-589! We’ll break down the entire process into clear, manageable steps!

Step 1. Gather the Required Documents for the I-589 Petition

Before filling out your Form I-589 application, you must gather and prepare a few documents.

I-589 Required Documents Regarding Your Identity

  • Passport: Make photocopies of any passports you have.
  • Copies of identification documents: Include copies of your birth certificate, national ID card, or driver’s license (if you have them).

I-589 Required Documents Regarding Your U.S. Immigration History

  • Copy of your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (if you arrived with a visa, through the visa waiver program, or received parole). This information might be online after May 2013 or on a paper document stapled to your passport before May 2013.

I-589 Required Documents Regarding Your Spouse

  • Birth certificate.
  • Passport or travel document (including all pages).
  • I-94 Arrival Record (if applicable).
  • Marriage certificate proving your marriage.
  • Proof of conclusion of any previous marriages (divorce judgment or similar) for you and your spouse.

I-589 Required Documents Regarding Your Children

  • Birth certificate.
  • Passport or travel document (including all pages).
  • I-94 record (if applicable).

I-589 Required Documents Regarding Criminal History

  • If you or a family member included in your application has been arrested or convicted in the United States, you must submit records of these incidents.
  • If you don’t have these documents, explain that you’ll try to obtain them and submit them later.

IMPORTANT! Do not send original documents, as USCIS might not return them. Keep the originals safe and bring them to your asylum interview when requested. The officer will need to see the originals at that time. Also, photocopy everything you submit to USCIS for your records, whether mandatory paperwork or supporting evidence.

Supporting Documents for Your Asylum I-589 Application

While Form I-589 is the core of your asylum application, these documents can strengthen your asylum case, so consider including them if you have them. If you don’t have them, consider preparing them. We’ll offer some tips in a moment!

Personal declaration
A written statement from you detailing your experiences
This is your chance to tell your story in detail. Explain the persecution you faced in your home country or the reasons for your fear of future persecution. Be specific about the events, dates, locations, and individuals involved.
Witness statements
Signed statements from friends or family members who can corroborate your experiences
If your friends or family witnessed your persecution, their written statements can be powerful supporting evidence. These statements should detail what they saw or heard, adding credibility to your story.
Medical evidence
Medical reports documenting physical injuries sustained from abuse
Medical reports from doctors who treated your physical injuries can be compelling evidence of persecution. These reports should be translated into English if necessary.
Mental health evaluations
Reports from psychologists or psychiatrists documenting emotional or psychological trauma
If you're suffering emotional or psychological problems as a result of your experiences, reports from mental health professionals can provide valuable evidence. They can establish the severity of the persecution's impact on you.
Expert reports
Statements from human rights experts or academics familiar with your home country
Including statements from experts who understand the human rights situation in your home country can add weight to your claim. These experts can provide context for your story and support your claims of persecution.
Country condition reports & news clippings.
News articles or reports documenting human rights abuses in your home country
News articles, human rights reports, or other documents showcasing the abuses in your home country can provide important background information for your case. They can help demonstrate the validity of your fear of persecution.
Other supporting evidence
Photos, threatening letters, government documents, or anything else that proves your experiences
Any additional evidence you can gather to support your claims can be helpful. This might include photographs of injuries, threatening letters, government documents related to your persecution, or anything else that verifies your story.
Cover letter
A brief letter listing the contents of your application and any special requests
While not mandatory, a cover letter can be a helpful tool. In this letter, you can list the documents you've included in your application and make any special requests you might have, such as requesting a female asylum officer for sensitive topics.

IMPORTANT! Suppose you have documents that aren’t in English. In that case, you’ll need to include a complete and accurate English translation of the document and a “Certificate of Translation” signed by a translator who confirms fluency in both languages and the accuracy of the translation.

IMPORTANT! If you’re applying for asylum for your spouse and unmarried children under 21 who are with you in the U.S., don’t forget to include copies of your marriage certificate and their birth certificates (with English translations if needed) to prove your family relationship!

Step 2: Complete the I-589 Form to Request Affirmative Asylum

If you are ready to file your asylum application, let’s see how to complete Form I-589 accurately and avoid delays. Remember, this guide is for filing the asylum petition by mail!

General I-589 Form Filing Tips as Provided by USCIS

  • Before filling the I589 form, review the instructions (Edition Date: 03/01/23). 
  • Complete the entire form, including explanations, in English.
  • If you already have a pending Form I-589 with USCIS, don’t submit another one. This won’t speed up processing and might cause delays. 
  • Once USCIS accepts your application, don’t send additional documents or information to the initial filing address. Based on your local asylum office, you’ll be instructed where to submit them later.

USCIS may reject your application if certain sections are incomplete. Here’s a list of critical information you’ll need to provide:

Part A - Your Information, Information about Your Spouse & Children, Background

  • Alien Registration Number (Question 1)
  • Full name (Question 4)
  • Current U.S. address (Question 8): Include your street number and name, city, state, and zip code.
  • Date of birth (Question 12)
  • Country of birth (Question 13)
  • Past immigration court involvement (Question 18): If you’ve been before an immigration judge or faced arrest by DHS/immigration officers, you might need to file through immigration court instead.
  • Entries into the U.S. and visa status (Question 19): Be honest about your entries into the U.S. and visa status (even if you entered without inspection or overstayed). Most immigration violations won’t affect your asylum case if you do so to escape persecution.

IMPORTANT! Complete information for your spouse (Questions 1-24) and children (Questions 1-21) if you want them included in your application. If you have more than four children, use additional copies of Form I-589, Supplement A, to provide information for each child.

In Part A.III, you’ll provide details about your background, including your last address, previous residences, education and employment history, and information about your parents and siblings.

Part B. – Detailed Information About Your Application

This section is crucial. Here, you’ll answer questions that determine your eligibility for asylum. It’s important to be specific and provide dates, names, and locations. You can attach Supplement B or additional sheets if you need more space to explain your case. You can also include supporting documents as evidence. 

  • Question 1 asks about the basis of your asylum claim. You must check at least one of the first five boxes to be eligible (you can check multiple boxes if applicable). There’s also a box for Withholding of Removal under the Convention Against Torture. 
  • Question 1. A. Here, you’ll explain the harms, mistreatment, or threats relevant to your claim and the country you fled. Evidence of harm or threats caused by government actors is robust. If you faced harm from non-government actors, explain that the government was unable or unwilling to protect you. Try to get affidavits or statements from family or friends who can support your claims.
  • Question 1. B. You must answer “Yes” and explain why you fear harm if you return to your home country to be eligible for asylum.
  • Question 2. This question asks about your criminal history outside the U.S. However, you can use this space to explain the false accusations, detentions, interrogations, or imprisonment related to your asylum claim. These events can qualify as “persecution.” If applicable, show proof of arrest, legal proceedings, and incarceration (and why you believe you were targeted). If your arrests/prosecutions are unrelated to your claim, get an immigration attorney because serious crimes unrelated to your claim can prevent you from getting asylum. 
  • Question 3. A. USCIS wants to know about your memberships in organizations or groups. Being part of a group that has persecuted others or is involved in terrorism could bar you from asylum (consult an attorney if this applies). However, you can also show participation in activist, media, political, or religious activities. If the government or others targeted these organizations, explain your role and any leadership positions you held.  
  • Question 3.B. Explain whether you and your family are still part of these groups (and provide evidence). Remaining a member can strengthen your case by showing dedication to the organization and that you can’t simply leave to avoid persecution.
  • Question 4. Only answer “Yes” if you genuinely fear torture upon returning. However, if applying under the Convention Against Torture, select “Yes” and explain why.  

Part C – Additional Information About Your Application

This section’s Yes/No questions ask about things that could affect your asylum chances. You’ll need to explain if you answer “Yes” to any of them. 

  • Question 1 asks if you previously requested asylum and were denied by USCIS, an immigration judge, or the Board of Immigration Appeals. If your circumstances change or family members with similar cases receive asylum, it could improve your case. However, the outcome is less likely to change if USCIS denies your claim due to criminal history. 
  • Questions 2.A. and 2.B. ask about past travel and residence abroad. USCIS wants to know if you could return to a safe third country instead of the U.S. or your home country. If relevant, explain why you didn’t apply for asylum there. You’ll likely be asked about this during your asylum interview. If another country offers permanent residency but refuses without a valid reason, you won’t be eligible for U.S. asylum.  
  • Question 3. If you persecuted others, you are ineligible for asylum. If you answer “Yes,” explain why you participated (e.g., forced by others). Provide evidence to support your claims, such as articles from humanitarian groups. 
  • Question 4. If you left your home country and later returned, explain how circumstances changed since you returned or any extenuating events that required your return (e.g., severe family illness). A weak explanation might convince USCIS you don’t genuinely fear returning. 
  • Question 5. If you’re applying after one year of arriving in the U.S. or your legal status expiring, explain the “extraordinary circumstances” that delayed your filing. These could include illness, changing conditions in your home country, or other significant reasons.
  • Question 6. If you or your family members have been arrested or convicted of a crime in the U.S., you should hire an immigration lawyer to understand the impact on your asylum case.

Parts D Through G – Administrative Issues

These sections have more to do with administration than your identity or reasons for seeking asylum in the U.S. 

  • Part D. Here, you’ll print your name in English and your native language and indicate if a spouse, parent, or child helped you with the form. 
  • Part E. Declare if an attorney, nonprofit employee, or other accredited representative assisted you with the form.
  • Parts F and G. Leave these sections blank. USCIS will complete Part F at your asylum interview (if applicable) and Part G at your removal hearings before an immigration judge (if applicable).

IMPORTANT! Review USCIS’s “Tips for Filing Forms by Mail” for additional guidance on ensuring your application gets accepted. USCIS will reject any form missing an explanation for why you’re seeking asylum or any referenced addendums. Don’t forget to sign your application! USCIS will reject any unsigned form!

Step 3: Biometrics Appointment

After you submit your asylum application, you can expect to receive a follow-up notice from USCIS scheduling a biometrics appointment. During this visit, a USCIS official will collect fingerprints, photographs, signatures, etc. They use your info to verify your identity and conduct background checks.

Attending this appointment on the scheduled date and time is essential, as missing it could cause delays in processing your application. The biometrics appointment is usually a quick and straightforward procedure, and USCIS will provide you with all the details beforehand.

Step 4: Attend the Asylum Interview

After USCIS receives your fingerprints, photograph, and signature from your biometrics appointment, they will likely schedule you for an asylum interview. This interview is vital to the asylum process, where you’ll meet directly with a USCIS asylum officer. They will assess the believability of your asylum claim and gather any additional details relevant to your case, so the interview is your chance to explain your situation thoroughly and provide evidence to support your claims of persecution.

The officers will ask questions about your experiences, reasons for fleeing your home country, and fear of returning, so be prepared to answer truthfully and completely. The interview can feel nerve-wracking, but coming prepared with documentation and a straightforward narrative about your circumstances will significantly improve your chances of a successful outcome.

Step 5: Receive the Asylum (Form I-589) Decision

After your asylum interview, the waiting period begins. USCIS will carefully evaluate your application and interview details to determine your eligibility for asylum. This process can take several months, so be patient. There are three possible outcomes: approval, denial, or referral to immigration court.

In the best-case scenario, USCIS will approve your asylum application. This means you’ll be granted asylum status and receive the legal protections that come with it.

However, if USCIS denies your application, you can appeal the decision in immigration court. You will need a good lawyer for this part, so hire one!

The final possibility is that USCIS will refer your case to an immigration court for a hearing before a judge. This might happen if your case is complex or some require further clarification. If this occurs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your application is denied. It means you’ll have another chance to present your case and plead for asylum.

I-589 Form Processing Time

How long does an asylum decision take? Too long, if you ask I-589 applicants. 

USCIS says they will decide on your asylum application within 180 days of filing it. However, this is an ideal scenario, and there can be delays for various reasons. 

In the past, USCIS processed applications on a first-come, first-served basis. This meant applicants waited their turn for review and an interview. Unfortunately, a surge in asylum applications caused wait times to balloon to several years in some areas

USCIS implemented a new policy called “last in, first out to address this backlog.” This means they prioritize recently filed applications over older ones for interviews. They aim to discourage people from filing frivolous claims simply to get a work permit while their case is pending, as they’ll have to wait longer for an interview.

If you recently applied or plan to apply for asylum via Form I-589, be aware that the processing time might be significantly longer than the 180-day target. This new policy could delay your interview and, ultimately, your decision.

What Can You Do While You Wait for a Decision on Your I-589 Application?

While you wait for a decision on your I-589 asylum application, you can stay in the United States

If you must travel outside the U.S., you must get special permission first. This permission is called “advance parole,” you can apply for it using Form I-131.

If you’ve submitted your asylum application (Form I-589) and it’s been with USCIS for at least 150 days, you might be eligible to apply for an EAD to work in America legally.

IMPORTANT! It’s best to avoid traveling back to your home country while your I-589 application is pending. USCIS might see this as a sign you don’t fear returning and, therefore, don’t need asylum protection in the U.S.!

If you move while your application is being reviewed, informing USCIS within 10 days is important. You can do this in two ways:

  • Fill out Form AR-11 and mail it to USCIS.
  • Update your address directly on the USCIS website if available.

There’s a slight chance that USCIS might miss your address update. To be safe, sending a copy of Form AR-11 to the USCIS office where you initially filed your asylum application is a good idea. This way, they’re sure to have your current address on file.

How Much Does Form I-589 Cost?

The good news is that filing Form I-589 is currently free! There’s no charge to submit this form to USCIS! 

You might have to pay for the biometrics check, but it won’t break your budget.

The Special Case of Filing I-589 Form When Facing Deportation (Removal Proceedings)

If you’re already in immigration court because the government is trying to remove you from the United States, you are in removal proceedings. They are like a court case where the government argues why you shouldn’t be allowed to stay, and you have a chance to argue why you should be allowed to stay (often with reasons like asylum). If the judge rules against you in removal proceedings, you could be deported, forcing you to leave the U.S. 

Here are the three ways to submit your asylum application while facing deportation:

1. In Court During Your Hearing

This is the most straightforward option. Prepare copies of your application packet (originals and copies). During your hearing, present the judge with the originals and copies. They will keep the originals, stamp the copies, and return one copy to you and another to the government attorney.

2. At the Immigration Court Filing Window

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Your I-589 application packet (originals and copies)
  • A “Certificate of Service” proving you gave a copy to the government attorney

Head to the court’s filing window. The clerk will take the originals and the Certificate of Service, stamp the copies you brought, and return one copy to you for your records. You’ll then need to deliver the other stamped copy to the government attorney. You can mail it or take it directly to their office, usually in the same building as the immigration court. Their address can be found online.

3. Mail Your Application

Prepare your application packet (originals and copies) and create a Certificate of Service.

Use a trackable mailing service. First, mail the original application and the Certificate of Service to the immigration court’s address. Then, mail a copy of the application to the government attorney’s address. Keep the final copy of the application for yourself.

IMPORTANT! After submitting your application to the court, you will send additional documents to USCIS to schedule a biometrics appointment. USCIS will provide further instructions on this step.

Do You Need Help Filing Form I-589 and Applying for Asylum in the U.S.?

The asylum application process is complex and filled with uncertainties. Understanding the legalities, gathering evidence, and attending interviews can be crushing, especially if you don’t speak English or have professional immigration consultants. ImmigrationDirect has extensive experience assisting asylum seekers through every step of the process. We can help you understand your eligibility, complete Form I-589 accurately, and prepare supporting solid documentation. Contact us today for a consultation, and let us help you fight for your right to stay safe in the United States!

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