An alien who is present in the United States may be granted asylum is he or she qualifies as a “refugee” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A refugee is defined by the INA as any person who is unable or unwilling to return to its country of nationality because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of one or more of the following protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
An alien may apply for asylum by using three different procedural routes: (1) by presenting an asylum claim at the US border; (2) by submitting an application to the Asylum Office (so called “affirmative asylum”, when the alien has not been placed in removal proceedings); or (3) during the course of removal proceedings, as a defense to removal (so called “defensive asylum”). Generally, an asylum seeker must file the application within one year from the date of his or her arrival to United States. However, the application can be also filed at a later date, exceeding the one-year filing deadline, if the applicant qualifies for one of the few exceptions under the law.