How are they the same and differ?
They are the same, drawing from one key Congressional act, with a few key exceptions. The United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol define a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Congress incorporated this definition into U.S. immigration law in the Refugee Act of 1980.
Asylum is a protection granted to foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the international law definition of a “refugee.” A refugee applicant most apply beyond the borders and not from within the U.S.
(main source is here.)
How many are there?
Total annual asylum grants averaged 23,669 between FY 2007 and FY 2016. Nationals of China, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras combined accounted for half (49.4%) of the 20,455 individuals granted asylum in FY 2016.
For refugees, The Trump Administration set for FY 2018 a cap of 45,000, sharply lower than in prior years.
What is the new policy about asylum seekers?
This is mostly from Immigration Impact. Again, in order to establish eligibility for asylum, an applicant must have a reasonable fear of persecution on account of a protected ground: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Membership in a particular social group is not defined in the law or regulations. It is instead shaped by case law, which is where asylum claims relating to domestic and gang violence have developed over time. Failure of the government to protect a person from private violence has been grounds for asylum awards.
The Attorney General overturned an asylum case and stated a general rule that “In general… claims based on membership in a putative particular social group defined by the members’ vulnerability to harm of domestic violence or gang violence committed by non-government actors will not establish the basis for asylum, refugee status, or a credible or reasonable fear of persecution.”
A new guidance from USCIS was issued on July 11 to comply with “Matter of A-B-“, the case which the Attorney General overturned. That was a 2016 case involving a woman from El Salvador who was granted asylum based on severe domestic violence she experienced. The A-B- case itself drew from a prior case, “Matter of A-R-C-G-“, that in 2014 had clarified years of uncertainty to firmly establish that survivors of domestic violence can be eligible for asylum under U.S. law.
It is too soon to know how strictly this guidance will be implemented and whether asylum claims based on domestic violence or fear of gangs will continue to be viable based on specific or different articulations of a victim’s fear of persecution.
For extensive information from the State Department, published in October 2017, go here.