Asylum Seekers Under 18 Years Old

Last updated February 17, 2022

The process of applying for asylum can be different for asylum seekers under 18 years old. This page contains some general answers to these questions:

ASAP mostly works with adults. However, if you are 14 to 17 years old, you can apply for ASAP membership and receive an ASAP membership card. You will then begin to receive general ASAP membership benefits when you turn 18. 

How can I apply for asylum as someone under 18 years old?

The answer depends on whether you are an “unaccompanied child.”

Some asylum seekers under 18 years old are designated as “unaccompanied children” by the U.S. government. Others are not. The way you apply for asylum is different depending on whether or not the U.S. government considers you an unaccompanied child. Unaccompanied children are sometimes also called “UACs” or “unaccompanied minors.”

If you crossed the Mexico-U.S. border without a parent, or you were separated from your parent after crossing the border, you were likely designated as an “unaccompanied child” by the U.S. government.

You were probably then placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). You should have then been released to a sponsor: a parent, another family member, or a friend who is now taking care of you. Your parent or sponsor is responsible for your well-being and for helping you with your immigration case until you turn 18.

Even if you crossed the border together with a parent, you may still qualify as an unaccompanied child if you are currently no longer under the care of your parent. Examples of this situation include death of the parent, or a situation of abuse.

If you think you may be an unaccompanied child, you can contact the closest office of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nationwide organization focused on representing unaccompanied children. You can also look for a lawyer here.

If you are an unaccompanied child, you can apply for asylum with USCIS.

If you are an unaccompanied child, you can apply for asylum with an immigration agency called United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), even if you have a case in immigration court. But please remember, you still need to go to your immigration court hearings unless the judge says you do not have to, in addition to any appointments with USCIS.

Most people have to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States. However, as an unaccompanied child, even if you have been in the United States for more than one year, you can still apply for asylum.

In addition to asylum, you may also be able to apply for an immigration status called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Read more about SIJS below.

For help with your case, you can contact the closest office of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nationwide organization focused on representing unaccompanied children. You can also look for a lawyer here.

If you are not an unaccompanied child, you can still apply for asylum.

If you do not fit the description above and you are not considered an unaccompanied child by the U.S. government, we recommend that you talk to your parent or guardian about your immigration case. You can also look for a lawyer here.

You have two options for applying for asylum:

In addition to asylum, you may also be able to apply for an immigration status called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Read more about SIJS below.

Other than asylum, what other immigration options do I have?

Below are some other common forms of immigration relief that you may wish to consider if you are under 18, in addition to asylum.

  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS): Special immigrant juvenile status is for minors who have either been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. To apply for SIJS, you have to go through two different processes – state court system and immigration system. SIJS is only available to applicants under 18 or 21 (depending on which state you live in), so it is very important that you talk to an attorney as soon as possible. For more information, you can read a guide for attorneys about SIJS.
  • Family Petition: If you have a parent or stepparent who is either a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, they may be able to petition for you.
  • U visa: U visas are for victims of certain crimes. You may be able to apply for a U visa if you, your parent, or your sibling was a victim of a crime. You can find more information about U-Visas here.
  • T visa: T visas are for victims of human trafficking. You may be able to apply for a T visa if you, your parent, or your sibling was a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking can include being forced to work or being forced to provide sexual services. For more information about applying for a T-Visa, please read this guide or this guide.

If you think that you may qualify for any of these forms of relief, you can contact the closest office of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nationwide organization focused on representing unaccompanied children, or look for an attorney here. An attorney can help you determine which option would be best for you. An attorney can also help determine if you qualify for any other forms of immigration relief.

What else do I need to do if I want to pursue my immigration case?

How can I find help?

  • For help with your immigration case, you can contact the closest office of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nationwide organization focused on representing unaccompanied children. You can also look for a lawyer here.
  • If you are experiencing abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or chat with someone on their website to get support and talk about your options. Their services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • You can find other useful links, including free medical clinics and resources for students, on ASAP’s find help page.

Note: This information is for individuals seeking asylum in the United States and is not a substitute for advice from an attorney.

Menu