On July 15, 2016, the Turkish military unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the Turkish government. After the failed coup d’état, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a massive effort to purge Turkey of the alleged perpetrators and their supporters. According to Erdogan, the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen is to blame for the failed coup. As such, the Turkish government is pursuing anyone with alleged links to Fethullah Gulen and his “Gulen movement,” a religious and social movement, also known as Hizmet, that promotes service, education, and altruism.

Since the abortive coup attempt, thousands of military officials, government officials, academics, and civilians have been detained and/or fired from their positions. The purge has led to a large number of these individuals to leave Turkey and seek asylum elsewhere. Unfortunately, in many cases, passports have been confiscated to prevent people from leaving Turkey.

For those who successfully manage to leave Turkey and enter the United States, or who were already in the United States before the coup attempt and now fear returning, asylum is one option. Under U.S. immigration law, asylum may be granted to an individual who is: (1) unable or unwilling to return to his/her home country because s/he was persecuted there in the past or has a well-founded fear that s/he will be persecuted if s/he returns to his/her country; and (2) the reason for the persecution is based on his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For Turkish nationals who manage to escape the current situation in Turkey, an asylum application can be made on the basis of past or potential persecution based on religion, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion.

To have a successful asylum application, it is imperative to obtain evidence of the past or potential persecution. In situations where torture is involved, photographs, medical records, or other evidence demonstrating the violence help. Given the large-scale persecution occurring in Turkey since the coup, media reports are also useful. It is not necessary for past persecution to have occurred; a showing of a well-founded fear of persecution if the person returns to Turkey can suffice. Additionally, an actual connection to the Gulen movement or coup is not required; a perceived or alleged link can suffice.

Normally, people must apply for asylum within one year after they arrive in the United States. Although exceptions exist to the one-year filing requirement, it is recommended to apply before the one year is up. For this reason, it is important that an interested individual seek legal help as early as possible after entry into the United States.

There is no filing fee associated to the asylum application. Also, if at least 150 days pass since the day a complete asylum application is filed and no decision is yet made by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the applicant may apply for employment authorization. An asylum applicant can also include in the application his/her spouse and unmarried children under 21 who are in the United States. If the spouse and children are abroad, the applicant can petition for his/her spouse and children to come to the United States after the applicant is granted asylum.

People who successfully obtain a grant of asylum may work immediately without obtaining an additional work authorization document. An asylee can apply for a green card one year after being granted asylum.

The asylum application process can be long and burdensome, but it is an option for people who fear persecution. Because asylum is complicated, individuals should seek a licensed and competent immigration attorney for an individual assessment of their case.