Prior to gaining asylee status, asylum seekers in the U.S. are considered to be undocumented and are therefore denied government benefits and legal work authorization (National Immigration Law Center, 2011/2012; USCIS, 2013).
Most Agencies Won’t Help Them
They are shut out from the vast majority of community service agencies which require payment or insurance. Agencies offering free or affordable health care, food, housing, legal aid, or other critical supports are very few and far between.
Identifying and traveling long distances to access these services pose additional and very real barriers.
Asylum Seekers Can Be Vulnerable
Asylum seekers are thus extremely vulnerable without means and are severely limited in their ability to meet their basic needs as well as to access vital legal representation (Fusaris, 2012). With what little money they may have for service costs and transportation, asylum seekers are often forced to choose between crucial services and to make costly sacrifices (Dunman, 2006).
Asylum Seekers and Mental Healthcare
Asylum seekers are also unable to access often needed mental health care. Due to their direct subjection to persecution, violence, and torture in their home country, this population frequently deals with post-traumatic symptoms, anxiety, depression, and in some cases suicidal ideation.
These experiences pose further, profound challenges to asylum seekers’well-being and psychosocial functioning which, in addition to associated stigma, can strongly impact their ability to seek and engage with mental health services.
Without access to basic services and to legal representation, asylum seekers face worsening health and mental health, diminished capacities for work and community, as well as likely deportation.
How Social Workers Can Work with Asylum Seekers
When working with asylum seekers in social work practice, social workers also play a major advocacy role in direct clinical work with asylum seekers, whether in individual/group counseling or case management roles. A micro social worker may be one of the first persons with whom an asylum seeker may develop rapport and trust, as a part of the working relationship. Identifying concerns and priorities requires careful explanation and non-directive questioning and should be a continual process with an emphasis on the client’s choice.
Direct One-on-One Casework
Direct one-on-one casework can include assisting with access and navigation to affordable health/mental health care, food, stable housing, transportation, legal assistance, post-asylum benefits (including family reunification and time-limited cash assistance), as well as other needed supports.
A case manager may help clients to understand the availability, demands, benefits, costs and process involved in obtaining services so that clients can make informed choices. Perhaps even more importantly, social workers may serve in the critical role, together with the client, of advocating for assistance from helping professionals in the legal, medical, psychological, government, and social services fields.
Social workers can also provide counseling and mental health care for a population that has experienced chronic and severe traumas as well as major losses. Asylum seekers face additional challenges in having few community/social resources for coping, living in stressful deprivation within new perplexing social systems, and being involved perhaps in the re-traumatizing work of applying for legal asylum.
Ultimately, the primary role of a micro social worker is to empower the client to identify and express their needs, find and utilize resources, and effectively manage issues themselves.
Referrals – connecting to community services
Assisting with transportation navigation
Social Workers Can Help to Ensure:
Clients have their provision for basic needs met, including food, stable housing, clothing, and safety
- Clients have timely access to needed health/mental health (preventive and treatment) services
- Clients have access to culturally appropriate and language-appropriate services