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What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

People often think of anyone who comes to the United States from another country as an immigrant, but that's not strictly true. People can come with many different statuses and titles, and these have a drastic impact on how the process plays out.

Two examples are those who seek asylum and those who are classified as refugees. Typically, both are looking to escape danger -- a war, for example -- within their own country. Someone who is simply an immigrant could come from a country where they have a fine, safe life, but they simply wish to enter the U.S. For a refugee or an asylum seeker, they feel like they have no choice but to leave home, even if they would prefer to stay.

Those seeking asylum are often running from direct persecution. They want the protection of entering the United States because they think they may be killed or otherwise harmed due to their:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • Belonging to a social group

Now, refugees may have some of the same fears, so here is a huge difference between the two groups: Asylum seekers start the process after they have already entered the U.S. through emergency means or while they are waiting at the border. A refugee, on the other hand, seeks to come to the United States from a refugee camp that could be located overseas.

It is important to understand exactly how and why you want to enter the United States. This allows you to do it properly and to look into all of the legal options that you have available to you in your unique situation.

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