When can you ask the U.S. for asylum if you’re facing deportation?

Are you an immigrant who is afraid to return to your home country? Are you facing the very real prospect of returning to a country that likely doesn’t want you? You aren’t alone.

Every day, immigrants in the U.S. apply for asylum. They do so because they, their spouses and their children have a genuine fear of physical harm and mistreatment if they return to their home countries because of their race, religion, political views or something similar.

Essentially, an asylum claim is a request for permission to stay in this country on a humanitarian basis, much the same way that a refugee might. While asylum claims are useful in limited situations, they’re not easy to make — and many immigrants already in this country will find that they’re ineligible to even apply.

Generally, an application for asylum has to be submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within one year of the date you last entered this country. Since it’s difficult for an undocumented immigrant to prove when they entered the country, this is often an effective bar to a claim.

There are some exceptions to the one-year rule that can provide opportunities for some asylum seekers. If you’ve been in this country for longer than a year, you can still seek asylum if you can show that your circumstances suddenly changed or there are other, extraordinary circumstances in play. For example, maybe your country split in a civil war while you were in the U.S. on a student visa. If you would face new persecution upon your return because you belong to an ethnic minority that is being targeted, that may make for a valid asylum claim.

Immigration laws and policies are always in flux. Speak to an experienced immigration attorney about your case so that you can explore all of your potential options.