Both refugees and asylum seekers must meet the same definition of fleeing persecution due to race, national origin, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. While the two groups flee their homes for similar reasons, they arrive in the U.S. through different means.
- Refugees are unable to return to their home country after fleeing and seeking asylum in another country. They must apply for refugee status through the UNHCR and then be selected for resettlement. Refugees do not get to choose the country where they will be resettled, but they are more likely to be resettled in the U.S. if they already have family members living here. Refugees are thoroughly vetted with multiple background checks and medical screenings. Once they have passed all of those checks and are approved, they are flown to the United States and a local resettlement agency will help them during a transition period when they first arrive.
- Asylum seekers are also fleeing persecution in their home country, but they apply for asylum either at the border or from within the U.S. Seeking asylum is not something that can be done from an embassy or from their home — individuals may file for asylum only if they are physically in the United States or at a port of entry.
This graphic from World Relief illustrates how asylum seekers and refugees compare.