Can I still seek asylum if I passed through another country before entering the United States?

July 2, 2020

On June 30, 2020, a federal court struck down the Trump administration’s third country transit bar. The original bar said that people who have passed through a country other than their country of origin before entering the United States must request asylum in one of those countries – and if they do not, they will not be eligible for asylum in the United States. The bar affected people who entered the United States on or after July 16, 2019.

But recently, a court decided that the third country transit bar is invalid. For now, this means that immigrants have the right to seek asylum even if they pass through countries other than their country of origin before entering the United States. For more information about the court’s decision, see this article.

This decision is a victory for asylum seekers. The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) supports the decision and stands with asylum seekers fighting for their right to live in safety in the United States.

However, it is important to know that the government could appeal the court’s decision and still apply the rule in the future. For this reason, although the third country transit bar does not currently apply to any asylum seekers, we have included more information about it below:

What is the “third country transit bar?”

The third country transit bar rule does not apply right now. If it comes into effect in the future, the rule says that people who passed through another country (that is not their country of origin) before entering the United States must seek asylum in at least one of those other countries. For example, a person who from Honduras who passes through Guatemala and Mexico must first request asylum in Guatemala or in Mexico before requesting asylum in the United States.

This means that people who entered the United States on or after July 16, 2019 could be denied asylum if they did not first request asylum in one of the countries that they passed through prior to the United States. But people affected by this rule can still receive other forms of relief, such as protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) or withholding of removal.

Who would not be affected by the rule?

Even if it is applied again, the third country transit bar would NOT apply to:

  • People who entered the United States BEFORE July 16, 2019.
  • People who arrived at the border before July 16, 2019, but who could not present themselves at a port of entry to request asylum and instead had to put their names on a waiting list. (This exception was the result of a decision in another federal court, but that decision is not final and could still change.)
  • Asylum seekers from Mexico, who only traveled through their own country before entering the United States.
  • People who have been victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking includes being recruited or transported to the United States through force or deception.

What should you do if you entered on or after July 16, 2019, and think that the bar could apply to you?

For now, the rule is not in effect and should not impact any asylum seekers’ cases, regardless of when they entered the United States.

However, if the rule is applied again, don’t give up! You still have the right to apply for other forms of protection that are similar to asylum.

For example, someone who does not qualify for asylum because of the third country transit bar can still apply for withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). These forms of protection prevent the United States government from returning people to a country where they would be in danger. To apply for these forms of protection, you should fill out the same I-589 form that is used to apply for asylum. We recommend that you work with a lawyer to fill out and submit the I-589!

For more information and resources from the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) visit our website.

Note: This information is for individuals seeking asylum in U.S. immigration courts and is not a substitute for advice from an attorney.

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