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Asylum Seekers

Asylum Seekers

Across the globe, people face persecution for their beliefs or who they are. In the face of significant risks, many leave the place they call home and seek help in faraway places. These people are asylum seekers, and they navigate complex legal systems and obstacles to secure a safer future. Today we'll review asylum seeker benefits, look at an asylum seeker example, and explore asylum seekers in the United States.

Asylum-Seekers Geography Definition

A person seeking asylum is forced to flee their country to another because of fear of persecution or for their safety at home. Asylum seekers are a type of forced migrant, meaning they migrate involuntarily. Someone leaving their home for another place to seek better job opportunities or simply for more favorable political conditions is not considered an asylum seeker and is a voluntary migrant. The key to differentiating them is that an asylum seeker is someone in fear for their life or facing a loss of human rights and is seeking protection in another sovereign country. Let's go over the asylum-seekers geography definition next.

Asylum seekers: Individuals who face threats to their lives or human rights violations in their home country and seek protection in another nation but do not have legal residency yet.

Asylum seekers also diverge from refugees in that they are still awaiting a determination on whether or not they can stay in a host country. Being granted asylum is a legal process that changes greatly depending on the host country but involves hurdles for the asylum seeker before they are officially allowed to stay. Essentially, asylum seekers are stuck in limbo, navigating complex bureaucracy to formalize their residency in a safer place.

Asylum Seeker Example

Many reasons can lead to someone being an asylum seeker: war, oppression, and violation of human rights. Next, let's go over some main reasons and examples of why someone might become an asylum seeker.

Political Persecution

People seek political asylum when they fear their political rights are being violated or fear reprisal from their government. Speaking out against the government or being a direct target of political opposition can lead to that person needing to seek refuge elsewhere. Political asylum seekers are sometimes very high-profile, and seeking asylum somewhere might cause diplomatic tensions between the host country and the seeker's home country.

For over a decade, the case of Julian Assange has been a significant news story. Julian Assange founded the website Wikileaks, which publishes leaked material from governments. Escaping prosecution and potential imprisonment, Julian Assange sought refuge at the embassy of Ecuador, and Ecuador eventually granted him asylum based on political persecution.

Violence and Ethnic Persecution

Unfortunately, wars and conflicts driven by hatred and desperation continue today. People are in danger because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or heritage. Minority groups in countries around the world sometimes end up targets of violence and have their human rights deprived. In Myanmar, the Muslim minority Rohingya people have been the subjects of a campaign of violence and destruction and are seeking asylum in droves in neighboring Bangladesh.

Asylum Seekers Rohingya UN refugee camp StudySmarterFig. 1 - Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

Another conflict that took center stage in Western media for years was the Syrian Refugee Crisis. The Syrian Civil War resulted in the massive displacement of millions of Syrians, many of whom sought asylum in Europe on humanitarian grounds. While many of these people already have formal refugee status, some are still trickling into Europe and elsewhere as asylum-seekers.

Read our explanations on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees to explore the differences and distinctions between the various types of Forced Migration.

Economic Hardship

While not as commonly recognized, seeking asylum based on poverty and financial desperation is another reason someone might become an asylum seeker. This designation is more controversial because seeking better economic opportunities is sometimes viewed as voluntary migration instead of involuntary. However, challenging financial circumstances brought about by things like war, natural disasters, or the stripping away of human rights are more recognized scenarios for granting asylum.

Asylum Seekers Benefits

Unlike refugees, asylum seekers don't have the same legal protections and benefits. On the other hand, asylum seekers have little choice but to go somewhere safer and take their chances instead of suffering in their home countries. Seeking asylum requires incredible bravery and determination, and the benefits can be well worth it.


The primary purpose of someone seeking asylum is to ensure their safety. By applying for asylum, seekers can usually receive at least temporary residence in a safer place than where they came from. By seeking asylum in another country, they avoid the persecution and fears for their life that prompted them to move. Housing is usually informal while they wait for government assistance, with a mix of aid groups trying to provide food and shelter, and legal aid while their case is processed.

Step Towards Achieving Refugee Status

Applying for asylum is the first step in receiving formal residency in a host country. By beginning this process, asylum seekers avoid the perils of living somewhere illegally. The path toward obtaining a legitimate immigration status is often long and tedious, but the benefits of being allowed to reside somewhere legally can compensate for those costs.

Asylum Seekers UNHCR workers in Slovenia StudySmarterFig. 2 - The UNHCR plays a pivotal role in protecting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers

Once designated as refugees, other doors open, such as aid from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and additional legal protections are granted to them.

Opportunity For Better Life

Leaving one's home, both in the physical and cultural sense, is a mentally taxing and emotionally fraught decision to make. Asylum-seekers are those who decide the benefits of life elsewhere far outweigh the risk of continuing to live in their home. The hope for a better and more prosperous future drives asylum seekers. Many success stories exist of people leaving a harsh environment and finding a new home in another country.

Asylum Seekers in the United States

With the immigration debate in the United States growing continuously heated, the focus has zeroed in on people arriving in the country seeking asylum. In particular, migrants from Latin America arriving on the southern border with Mexico are the focus of political and economic debates surrounding how to handle them. United States law regarding asylum is complex, but many poorer migrants consider this their best chance to establish residency as opposed to other legal avenues of immigration.

Who Qualifies for Asylum in the United States?

To be granted asylum in the United States, applicants need to meet three requirements:

  1. Not be convicted of a serious crime.
  2. They need to prove they are being persecuted or will be persecuted in their home countries.
  3. Demonstrate they are persecuted based on political opinion, ethnicity, religion, or particular social group.

"Particular social group" is ambiguous and is the subject of debate as to its meaning, but it essentially means that potential asylum seekers belong to a group of people that are being persecuted and cannot change their association with that group. Still, to apply for asylum, that individual must be present in the United States or somewhere like a border crossing.

Asylum Seeker Cubans 1996 on a bus StudySmarterFig. 3 - Cubans granted asylum in the United States in 1996 on political grounds

Next, let's review some of the current limitations of the United States asylum system.

Limitations to Seeking Asylum in the United States

Not everyone who tries to seek asylum in the United States explicitly qualifies under US law. Migrants fleeing gang violence and poverty are in desperate situations, but if unable to prove the violence they face is due to one of the defined reasons, they can't be allowed refuge in the US. The "particular social group" designation, being inherently ambiguous, causes heated legal cases over who qualifies. Different administrations have clarified or changed rules on who is considered part of a particular social group, like whether LGBTQ+ people qualify. The court system that processes asylum cases is currently bogged down, and massive backlogs mean asylum seekers can wait years before receiving a judgment.

New Rules for Asylum Seekers in USA 2022

The Trump administration tightened rules surrounding who can be granted asylum in the United States. The Biden administration has approached all immigration issues with a more moderate stance, not actively trying to curb immigration and aiming to expedite the asylum-seeking process.

New rules that went into effect in May of 2022 amended the asylum-seeking process by empowering immigration officers to grant asylum within a shorter period. Previously, only a judge could give asylum after a court case, which could take years and drain the seeker's resources. Now, the new rule aims to have particular asylum seekers granted asylum in months instead of years, helping reduce court backlogs and give refuge to those who need it as quickly as possible.

Asylum Seekers - Key takeaways

  • Asylum seekers are a type of forced migrant, meaning they leave their homes for reasons outside of their control.
  • Seeking asylum is a step to being granted refugee status in another country, a form of formal residency.
  • People seek asylum due to political and ethnic persecution and warfare.
  • The United States has narrow rules on who can seek asylum, limiting asylum seekers to a few specific categories, which do not include financial hardship or the threat of violent crime.


  1. Fig. 1, Rohingya refugee camp (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rohingya_Refugees_Camp_in_2019.18.jpg) by CAPTAIN RAJU (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:CAPTAIN_RAJU), Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
  2. Fig. 2, UNHCR workers (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ministrica_za_obrambo_obiskala_nastanitveni_center_v_%C5%A0entilju_09.jpg) by Boštjan Pogorevc, Licensed by CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Asylum Seekers

An asylum seeker is someone who faces persecution in their home country and seeks a safe haven in another country. Typically, a person must be forced to move due to violence or persecution based on things like race, political beliefs, or religion and can no longer safely stay in their country. An asylum seeker is somebody who has not yet achieved formal refugee status which allows them to legally reside elsewhere.

The rules change depending on the country and can range from proving you are persecuted because of an immutable trait like race to requesting asylum because of financial hardship. International law sets rules on who can seek asylum, but each country has differing definitions. Once people are allowed to stay somewhere legally, they are considered refugees.

Asylum seekers face difficulty in leaving their homes and settling elsewhere. The legal and financial obstacles can exasperate an already difficult situation for the asylum seeker, making it hard to get refugee status. Additionally, the trauma of experiencing violence or persecution and leaving your home is a challenge.

Refugees are asylum seekers who have been granted legal residency in a country. Asylum seekers are in the process of achieving that status but are not formally residents of another country. Both are types of forced migrants that leave their home countries for reasons out of their control like ethnic violence or political persecution.

The main types of asylum are:

  • Political asylum
  • Asylum based on ethnic persecution
  • Asylum based on seeking refuge from armed conflict

Final Asylum Seekers Quiz


An asylum seeker is a type of:

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Forced migrant

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What differentiates an asylum seeker from a refugee?

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Once an asylum seeker is granted residency in another country, they are considered a refugee. Seeking asylum is the process of achieving that status.

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Which of the following are common reasons for seeking asylum?

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Political persecution

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The Rohingya are a persecuted group in what country?

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Why isn't economic hardship always considered a valid reason for claiming asylum?

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Because economic hardship is not necessarily a reason to be forced from your home, not all countries recognize it as a reason to claim asylum. However, extreme poverty resulting from war or persecution is more often recognized.

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True or false: Seeking asylum is a step to becoming a refugee.

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Which of the following is a benefit of being declared a refugee as opposed to an asylum seeker?

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Legal residency

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Which United Nations organization plays a big role in who is designated as refugees?

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