5 Ways to Change the Asylum Process

Last updated September 7, 2022

ASAP is the largest community of asylum seekers in U.S. history. We ask all ASAP members an optional question: “What is one thing you would change about the asylum process?” Of ASAP’s first 350,000 members, 79,232 members have responded.

ASAP’s staff reads every response to understand the issues that ASAP’s members care about most. The results guide ASAP’s work to fight for a better asylum process. Scroll down to read the top 5 ways that the U.S. government should change the asylum process, according to 79,232 asylum seekers from nearly every country in the world.

1. The government should speed up processing times for work permits and asylum interviews.

  • “Asylum seekers have been waiting for our asylum interviews and work permits for too long. We all have children, and they depend on us for food, shelter, and other basic necessities. Without a work permit, we are unable to provide for them.” – ASAP member from Haiti
  • “The wait is so long that it affects you psychologically. It affects the peace and mental health of families. It is an outrage that USCIS can take more than 10 months to decide whether or not to approve your work permit. We are not cockroaches, we are human beings.” – ASAP member from Venezuela

2. Work permits and Social Security numbers should be easier to obtain.

  • “The government should immediately grant asylum seekers the right to legally work. It is impossible to exist without the possibility of earning money. In addition, without a social security number it is impossible to buy health insurance and receive medical treatment.” – ASAP member from Russia
  • “I desperately need my work permit. I’m a mother raising three children alone. Our family can only get limited help from food stipends. I tried to work without a work permit, but my boss paid me very little and bullied me in the workplace. I really hope I can obtain my work permit to improve my current situation.” – ASAP member from China

3. More people should be granted asylum, and it should be easier to get immigration status in the United States.

  • “We should all have the opportunity to ask for asylum without so many requirements. When they ask for proof of what happened: we do not have time to take a photo or video of the attack, and we cannot file a complaint in our countries of origin because they do not do anything and we are afraid.” – ASAP member from Mexico
  • “I would make it easy for everyone who is fleeing their country of origin to obtain residency and citizenship in the United States.” – ASAP member from Nigeria

4. The asylum process should be more accessible and transparent.

  • “There should be more information provided in the language that the person speaks, and more orientation about the asylum process.” – ASAP member from Honduras
  • “USCIS communicates with asylum applicants using language that is very vague, hard to interpret, and usually has multiple meanings. They should use simpler English so more people can comprehend what they need to do next.” – ASAP member from India

5. Asylum seekers should be treated more humanely.

  • “I would change the attitude of U.S. immigration towards asylum seekers and immigrants overall. The treatment I received in detention was vile and inhumane.” – ASAP member from Jordan
  • “All immigrants should be welcomed with love, and without racism.” – ASAP member from Cuba
  • “For asylum seekers, it’s like we do not have a voice. We should make ourselves heard by government officials, and make them understand that we matter too, and we are human too. We help to build our communities, and we would like to be counted too.” – ASAP member from Haiti

How did ASAP determine these top 5 priorities?

ASAP arrived at this list of members’ top 5 priorities by first reading a sample of 1,000 member responses. Based on those 1,000 responses, we identified the 12 most common priorities. Then, ASAP’s staff read all 79,232 member responses and connected each response to one or more of the 12 priorities. We then counted the number of responses for each priority to determine the top 5 priorities overall.

Other commonly raised priorities from ASAP members included giving asylum seekers more access to social services and other government benefits, and reducing or eliminating fees in the asylum process.

When did ASAP determine these top 5 priorities?

The list above represents the top 5 priorities for ASAP’s first 350,000 members, determined in August 2022. In October 2021, ASAP’s staff determined priorities for ASAP’s first 150,000 members. You can read those original results here.

How have ASAP members’ priorities changed over time?

The top 5 priorities remained constant across ASAP’s first 150,000 members and next 200,000 members. For both groups, speeding up processing times for work permits and asylum interviews remained the #1 priority by far. However, over time, the gaps have tightened between the following 3 priorities: work permits should be easier to obtain, more people should be granted immigration status, and the asylum process should be more accessible and transparent.

We also noticed that compared to ASAP’s first 150,000 members, ASAP’s next 200,000 members were more likely to write that the asylum process should be accessible, transparent, and easier for asylum seekers to navigate on their own. ASAP has since increased our advocacy around accessibility and transparency in the asylum process.

Did ASAP learn anything surprising?

Many organizations and advocates are advancing universal representation as the top priority in the immigrants’ rights movement: the idea that every immigrant should have a lawyer. However, ASAP’s members have told us that the asylum process should be easy enough to navigate on their own, instead of being so complicated that it requires a lawyer. As one ASAP member from Colombia wrote: “We should be able to file each document required in the process without a lawyer.”

ASAP’s members have not indicated that universal representation is one of their top priorities. As a result, ASAP is not advocating for universal representation models. Instead, we are focused on making the asylum process easier to navigate without legal representation. For example, ASAP is now advocating for USCIS to improve the clarity and accuracy of their work permit application, instructions, and communications.

This example is reflective of ASAP’s larger philosophy: when members tell us their priorities, we shift our work in response. As a membership organization, we believe that ASAP’s members are the experts on how to improve the asylum process, and that their priorities should guide ASAP’s work. For this reason, ASAP’s current work is focused on alleviating backlogs and making it easier for asylum seekers to receive their work permits.

ASAP believes that asylum seekers can make great change by standing together. As an organization, we will keep fighting for ASAP members’ voices to be heard!