The immigration system in the United States is full of holes, inconsistencies and unnecessary complications, which is all the more reason that anyone hoping to become a permanent resident or citizen should consult an immigration lawyer. Trying to figure everything out without an attorney is not only difficult, but consequences that come with making a mistake can be quite serious.
That is especially true for individuals applying for asylum. There are a number of people in Lancaster who are fleeing past persecution in their home countries, seeking asylum in Pennsylvania and across the United States. For them, the cost of failing in their asylum applications means returning to a country where there is a high chance they could be tortured or killed. But obtaining asylum is not the same thing as becoming a naturalized citizen.
When someone is granted asylum, the U.S. government is saying that he or she has a credible fear of persecution in his or her home country based off of a discrete set of characteristics. While asylum gives an individual the ability to live and work in the United States, it does not make him or her a citizen. Asylees are given work permits, but they are not considered permanent residents. After one year of living as an asylee, an individual can apply for permanent residency, but then must wait five more years before he or she can apply to be a citizen.
It is important to recognize that not everyone who comes to Lancaster moved here with a job, an education or with a good relationship with people in their home countries. Some people came here fleeing war, political oppression and other situations that put their lives at risk. But, like any other person coming to the United States, they will have to navigate a highly complex immigration system.
Source: NBC News, “For asylum seekers, path to citizenship is paved with peril,” Petra Cahill, April 17, 2013