Individuals seeking political asylum in the United States must file an Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal within one year of their arrival to the United States, though there are a few limited exceptions to the one-year filing deadline. In addition to the one-year filing deadline, there could be other bars to asylum such as firm resettlement in another country or criminal history. 

A person may apply for asylum in the United States regardless of their country of origin or their current immigration status. In order to apply for asylum protection, applicants must show they cannot return to their home country because they have a credible fear of persecution there. Asylum seekers must establish that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to their country.

They must prove that the harm is from the government of their home country, or, from some person or group that the government of their home country cannot protect them from. To be eligible for asylum, the persecution must also be significant, such as unlawful or political detention, torture, violation of human rights, physical violence, or some type of severe non-physical harm.

Each asylum applicant bears the burden of proof to show all elements of his or her asylum claim:

  1. Past persecution or a “well‐founded fear” of future persecution
  2. At least one of the 5 relevant “protected grounds” (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion)
  3. A “nexus” (cause and effect relationship) between the harm he or she suffered or fears, and the relevant “protected ground”
    • ex. being arrested for protesting a government policy
    • ex. being threatened with violence because he or she assisted the U.S. military
  4. The fact that the applicant’s home country’s government cannot or will not protect them.

If an applicant establishes past persecution, he or she is statutorily entitled to a presumption that they fear future persecution on that basis. The U.S. government then bears the burden of demonstrating changed circumstances to the applicant, their home country, and/or the viability of internal relocation in their home country.

Presently, fleeing war or violence in one’s home country is not a sufficient qualification for asylum protection in the United States absent other qualifying factors. For this reason, many Ukrainian nationals fleeing war could have difficulty meeting the requirements for asylum. However, each asylum application is considered individually based on the applicant’s unique facts and circumstances. 

Asylum applications can take 4-5 years to adjudicate, and there is a significant risk of being rejected, so it could be beneficial to pursue multiple routes if an applicant seeks permanent residence in the U.S.

It is possible to apply for asylum concurrently with applying for other statuses. So, someone could potentially apply for asylum while applying to adjust their status through other channels, such as immediate relative, family preference, or employment-based visas. On the other hand, applications based on family reunification can vary in terms of processing time as well, depending on the category of familial relation and status of the U.S. relative when the application was filed. Likewise, applications for permanent residence based on employment can be another option, but they have their own challenges. 

Even if any applicant has a weak case for asylum, they could still seek protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) or at least withholding of removal from the U.S. if they can establish that they have at least a 51% chance (more likely than not) of future persecution if returned to their home country.

“Asylum seekers must establish that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to their country.”


“Presently, fleeing war or violence in one’s home country is not a sufficient qualification for asylum protection in the United States absent other qualifying factors.”

Among the first priorities for many arriving under the Uniting for Ukraine program is to obtain due benefits. However, there are quite a few instances in which local SSA and other benefits-granting offices are not aware of which benefits Ukrainians are eligible for and how to administer those benefits to recent arrivals. For example, we have heard of situations in which health insurance providers want a Social Security Number, but the local SSA office informs people that they cannot issue an SSN before applicants receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Or, some SSA offices don’t want to issue a non-working SSN in states where Ukrainians are eligible to receive certain benefits without having an SSN (for example, in New York State). 

For the purposes of obtaining benefits, all family members can apply for non-working SSN at their local SSA local office.
If they are applying for Medicaid, they should be able to get a letter from the benefits-granting agency stating they need an SSN in order to be able to process their Medicaid application. They can take that letter to the SSA, which should then issue them a non-working SSN. The SSA offices can confirm these provisions directly in their Program Operations Manual, found at 

https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0110211195

and

https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0110211600

It also helps to come to the SSA with a form from a government agency that states they need an SSN. Here are two sample letters requesting an SSN for non-work purposes from various agencies:

Sample 1

Sample 2

The above sample letters are from CA, but we are aware of Ukrainians who have shown these sample letters to benefits-granting offices in other states or used the letters as templates to take to their local SSA offices. They have even worked for people who had been previously turned away that same week.

Ukrainian applicants for benefits must bring passports and I-94 printouts. It is important for them to emphasize that they will be getting federal benefits through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). 

Today’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Welcome to come, but not to work: Ukrainians fleeing war can’t get job permits in the U.S., highlights a critical problem facing hundreds of thousands of recent arrivals to the United States: the lack of ability to work legally. This is not only a crisis for Ukrainians — it is a major problem for Afghans and others seeking refuge in the United States from war, violence, and persecution in numerous countries. 

Ukrainians, Afghans, and over a million others face a processing delay of 8-13 months for employment authorization, thanks to an unprecedented backlog of work permit applications. Bloomberg Law reported in May that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had more than 1.5 million pending applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) according to data released for the first quarter of fiscal year 2022. That’s only a portion of the 5.2 million total applications in the USCIS processing queue as of June 2022, a figure released by the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman in her annual report to Congress.

This issue goes beyond the obvious economic impact of not being able to provide shelter and necessities for oneself and one’s children and/or elderly parents. This issue puts countless vulnerable individuals and families in communities across America at risk for exploitation, victimization, domestic abuse, and even human trafficking.

To help address this nightmare, the Ukraine Immigration Task Force has proposed a temporary solution that would help not only Ukrainians but also Afghans and individuals from other countries admitted on humanitarian parole. Rather than calling for recent arrivals to bypass the agency’s (preferred) standard application process, our proposal would function within the current regulatory framework by asking USCIS to adjust its procedures within the existing application process to temporarily grant conditional employment authorization to Ukrainians, Afghans, and others granted humanitarian parole. 

Read more about this in the article, Welcome to come, but not to work: Ukrainians fleeing war can’t get job permits in the U.S.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

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