From the U.S. immigration standpoint, refugee and asylee are similar in their definition under Section 101 (a) (42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Eligibility for asylum and refugee requires the same legal standard of persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of membership in a particular social group, nationality, race, religion, or political opinion.
How can you then differentiate these two types of protection? Simply from the location of the applicant when applying for protection. An asylum applicant needs to be at a U.S. port of entry (border) or in the U.S. to apply for asylum. In contrast, a refugee applicant needs to be outside (overseas) of the U.S. and their country of nationality to apply for refugee status through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and that application does not give the opportunity to choose a specific country of protection.
It is important to remember that a refugee applicant is required to have a financial sponsor in the U.S. and an asylum applicant is not.
Applicants may apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States, even when in removal proceedings and/or residing in the U.S. illegally. You will need to discuss with an experienced immigration attorney to understand the law and its ramification better.
There has recently been a proposed change in asylum filing fees. If the proposed fee increase, which is currently enjoined, goes into effect, the fees for the Form I-589 will go from $0 to $50.
To qualify for asylum or refugee status, an applicant needs to prove that s/he has been persecuted in the past in their home country and/or s/he has a “well-founded fear” of future persecution in their home country and any country of citizenship.