The procedure for getting a green card through refugee or asylee status is similar but also different in some respects. Both a refugee and asylee are in the US because of fear of persecution in their home countries. The difference between them however, is that while the refugee comes to America already officially known and accepted to be someone in fear of persecution, the asylee comes in under a different status, and then claims the fear and persecution in his country while at the port of entry of after admission into the United States. Some asylees might even have come into the country as visitors for pleasure, but then claim asylum status after arrival or when their status expires or when an attempt is made to deport them. Asylum status can be granted at the port of entry or by an immigration court judge inside the US. The asylee, therefore, is declared to be in fear of persecution after arrival in the US, while the refugee is declared to be in fear of persecution outside the US, most likely in a refugee camp in a third country(for example, Sudanese refugees normally came from Egypt, Ghana, or Ethiopia).
The procedure for adjusting status to permanent resident (in simple terms, getting a green card), is similar but also different for asylees and refugees. Let us start with the procedure for refugees. The adjustment of status for refugees is dealt with under section 209 of the Immigration and Nationality Act which states that,
“a)(1) Any alien who has been admitted to the United States under section 207-
(A) whose admission has not been terminated by the Attorney General pursuant to such regulations as the Attorney General may prescribe,
(B) who has been physically present in the United States for at least one year, and
(C) who has not acquired permanent resident status, shall, at the end of such year period, return or be returned to the custody of the Service for inspection and examination for admission to the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the provisions of sections 235, 240, and 241.”
In other words, refugees qualify to apply for adjustment of their status to permanent residents of the US after one year’s residence in the US. The application for adjustment of status for refugees is done by filling Form I-485 together with supporting documentation, which includes the I-94 (this is a card that every alien coming into the US gets at the border that states the status under which the person is entering the US and the expiration date of the authority to be in the US), Form G-28 if the refugee is represented by an attorney or accredited representative, and Form I-693 duly completed by a surgeon authorized by USCIS and sealed in an enveloped to be opened only by USCIS officials.
The medical report normally does not cost a lot if the refugee has his shot records either from the third country they came from or from a doctor in the US. Refugees are normally given medical examinations and shots for free before they leave the third country, but many of them do not keep their shot records, which makes it more expensive when they have to see the USCIS civil surgeon in the US because he has to give them the shots all over again as he has no evidence that they ever had them. The civil surgeon also does a TB test, and if the refugee tests positive, he is given a chest X-ray. If he is still positive, then he has to undergo the TB treatment and his application for adjustment is put on hold until his treatment is completed. Many refugees from Africa give a false positive result when they are tested for TB, but then the chest X-ray clears them. Refugees, unlike other people applying for a green card, do not have to pay the $1010 fee for the application to USCIS.
The procedure for applying for a green card for asylees is similar to that of refugees in that the same forms are used: the asylee also has to file the forms I-485, G-28 and attach his sealed envelope with the Form I-693 duly completed by the civil surgeon. However, the major difference is that the asylee has to pay USCIS the application fee of $1010 and, if he is an asylee by order of court, he must attach the order of the court declaring him an asylee. Some asylees might have been declared asylees at the port of entry and therefore their I-94s would state that they are asylees. If this is the case then the asylee has to attach a copy of the I-94 since it is the one that will prove that he is an asylee. Another difference between asylees and refugees is that when their applications are approved, refugees have the privilege of their residence status being backdated to the date they first entered the US, while asylees do not get this and their residence runs from the date of approval of the application for the green card. This makes a big difference when it comes to applying for citizenship because an asylee might have been in the US for several years before he is declared an asylee, but he his residence will only run from the date his application for a green card was approved. He has to wait for five years before he can apply for citizenship. The refugee on the other hand always his period of residence in the US calculated from the time he entered the US, not the time his application was approved. This normally means that refugees progress faster to citizenship than asylees.
Many refugees delay to apply for adjustment of status, although there are a myriad of advantages of being a US citizen. According to the ORR state Letter dated July 24th 2009, “refugees who do not file the I-485 after they have been in the US for one year in refugee status are in violation are in violation of the INA and are at risk for immigration penalties including removal from the US”. Indeed right now refugees who have been in the US for a long time and have not applied for their green cards cannot renew their drivers’ licenses or identity cards or get new job because DMV and employers have been instructed to request for green cards from them. Asylees on the other hand are at liberty to apply for adjustment of status after one year, but are not required to do so. Therefore there are no penalties for asylees, although of course they are delaying their path to citizenship.
There are no reasons why refugees should not apply for their green cards immediately after the expiration of one year after their arrival. They do not have to pay a fee to USCIS, and there are several non-profit organizations nationwide dedicated to helping refugees normalize their residency in the US. All these organizations have either immigration attorneys or accredited immigration specialists and charge the refugees a meager fee for the services.
ORR State Letter dated 24 July 2009 www.USCIS.GOV