This post is by Amy Doring, the Asylee Outreach Specialist at HIAS Headquarters in Maryland. The HIAS Asylee Outreach Project can be reached at asyleeoutreach@hias.org or at (240) 284-3306. Learn more about the initiative on its website, asyleeoutreach.org, and follow @asyleeoutreach on Facebook to attend an upcoming national Asylee Benefits Orientation webinar. If you are an asylee in Maryland, please reach out to the Asylee Outreach Project to access resettlement services. If you are in another state, please visit the For Asylees page of the project’s website to contact a resettlement agency near you.

Asylees are eligible for a variety of refugee benefits and services following their asylum grant. If you’re an asylee or an attorney and this is the first time you’re hearing about asylee benefits—you’re not alone! Fewer than 20% of asylees access resettlement benefits, most often because they are unaware that they are eligible for these benefits, or that they even exist.

Benefits for asylees are funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and include, but are not limited to: Cash assistance, medical insurance, employment services, English classes, and job training. It’s important to note that eligibility for these benefits is time sensitive. Free health screenings, which will help satisfy medical requirements for your future Green Card applications, are available only during the first three months after an asylum grant. Eligibility for refugee cash assistance and medical insurance, in turn, ends eight months after the date of an asylum grant. Lastly, the availability of free English classes, job training, case management, and employment support services ends five years after an asylum grant. With these strict timelines, it is immensely important that asylees be connected with resettlement services as soon as possible to take full advantage. Family members who are derivative asylees will also be eligible for these same benefits.

Some asylees may be hesitant to access benefits, thinking it could affect their present or future immigration status. So, let’s dispel that fear right here: Applying for and receiving benefits will not affect your asylum status and you will still be able to apply for permanent residency and citizenship even if you apply for or receive benefits.

So, how do you access these benefits? If in Maryland, reach out to the Asylee Outreach Project to be connected to local resettlement services in the state. If outside of Maryland, you will need to reach out directly to a local resettlement office or, if none are near you, to your local department of social services to get started. When contacting these service providers, asylees should be ready to present a form of identification, a proof of asylum document, and their I-94, if they have one.

On top of providing refugee benefits, resettlement offices may also help asylees apply for federal and state means-tested programs, like food stamps, Medicaid, and rental assistance, eligibility for which will depend on income and family size. Resettlement offices can also provide case management services to help navigate post-asylum grant next steps, such as updating to an unrestricted social security card or help finding new housing. In some cases, they may also offer limited legal services to facilitate applying for family reunification, work permits, and a green card.

Attorneys have a pivotal role to play here too following an asylum grant, it’s important to make the client aware that they may be eligible for a range of benefits as an asylee (information for attorneys is available here). Otherwise, given the time-sensitive nature of the benefits, the client may never find out in time. In this conversation, make certain to assure the client that receiving benefits will not impact their immigration status, nor will they be in any sort of debt to the U.S. government. A few minutes of helping connect a client to resettlement benefits truly can translate into years of positive outcomes for the client.

A common question the Asylee Outreach Project often receives is whether there are similar benefits available to asylum seekers (i.e., people who have filed for asylum but who have not yet received a decision). Unfortunately, refugee benefits are only available to those who have received an asylum grant. Resources for asylum seekers instead tend to be quite limited with availability often dependent upon state and county of location. Some counties may have local medical coverage programs open to uninsured asylum seekers or there may be local non-profit organizations nearby working to support asylum seekers.

Where can you learn more about asylee benefits and the next steps you should take after receiving asylum? The Asylee Outreach Project holds Asylee Benefits Orientation webinars online every other month, open nationally to asylees, attorneys, and others interested in post-asylum grant next steps. To attend, follow @asyleeoutreach on Facebook to keep an eye out for our next event announcement or email asyleeoutreach@hias.org to receive event information. To learn more about asylee benefits, visit the Post-Asylum Grant Guide on our website, asyleeoutreach.org.