If you are a Russian citizen and have avoided military service, you may be able to apply for Asylum in the United States!
In this video, Yakov Spektor shares the asylum process for Russian draft dodgers. He provides an overview of the grounds on which someone may qualify for Asylum and explains how and where to apply.
This video also highlights eligibility criteria, waiting period, strict measures against illegal trespassers, and legal limitations for asylum grants.
Please watch the video and read the transcript to learn more!
Yakov Spektor 00:00
We’ll talk about a lot of things here. Okay, so let’s start with the easiest one. We’ll kind of we’ll start with the bad news and then go on to something that might actually result in good news for you.
Yakov Spektor 00:17
For anybody who’s watching, the bad news is that even though Biden promised that there will be some protections for the Russian draft dodgers at this point, that’s just words. There has been no program in place, no change in policy. Everything remains as it was, and we’ll talk about what that means in a second.
Yakov Spektor 00:45
Today is October 21, 2022. If you guys are watching this past October 21 or way past October 21, please check my words — maybe that program is already in place. But at this point, there is nothing. So as far as getting asylum in the United States, don’t forget that the first step is to get out of Russia. You cannot really apply for asylum without either being in the United States. Let’s say you come here as a visitor, and then you apply for asylum or getting to do something called the ports of entry, which means border crossing.
Michael Levites 01:35
Yakov, I just want to clarify something real quick. Say there’s no special program for Russian draft dodgers — however, they can apply under a general umbrella of getting political asylum in the United States. Is that what you’re saying?
Yakov Spektor 01:50
Yes. They can apply, just like anybody else. Anybody can really apply for asylum law. Question is, do you really have a strong asylum claim?
Yakov Spektor 02:02
Say you are a dentist from Sweden. You might not necessarily have a strong asylum claim. But if you’re a Russian draft dodger, it just feels like this is something that we should be protecting people from. Basically, people are going to be drafted against their will into a war, an unjust war, where they likely will die. So it just sounds like this is something that’s asylum worthy.
Yakov Spektor 02:35
But here’s a snag, and this is going to be super important. I suggest that anybody who is watching us right now pay attention. Just because you’re awaiting the draft does not necessarily mean that the government here is going to give you asylum. And the reason for that is that governments tend to respect each other’s laws.
Yakov Spektor 03:02
So if there was a law passed by a Russian government saying that we’re going to draft you, and you’re evading the draft. If you go back, they’ll put you in prison simply because you’re waiting for the draft and breaking the law. So the knee-jerk reaction by the US government is going to be like, “Well, we will respect another nation’s laws.” Just because you are breaking that law does not necessarily make you eligible for asylum.
Michael Levites 03:39
But Russia is no different because right now, Russia is enemy number one of the United States. So perhaps, that could help in consideration for asylum?
Yakov Spektor 03:49
Well, so all these things that we talked about, Michael, about the unjust war, about the fact that you are not going to be trained? Well, you might not even been drafted into the army lawfully. Maybe you weren’t even eligible to be drafted. All those things that we kind of understand right away, and most people understand right away, they have to be spelled out when you file for your asylum. I think they have to be the government really would have to understand this is not just a regular draft dodging situation. And so most people who are evading the draft in Russia, they usually also have some political views that basically led them to that choice. Of course, you might be afraid to go into the army and die. But that’s obviously a super reasonable way to look at this.
Yakov Spektor 04:56
But most of the people that are going to be one watching this video they’re probably going to be against the war in Ukraine. They’re probably going to be against the murderous Russian government’s policy. So if you’re already here and you’re applying for asylum, it’s super important not just to say, “Hey, you know what? I’m waiting for the draft.” Because if you just say that without thinking, the government might, without thinking, deny you just because the general policy is to respect another nation’s laws.
Yakov Spektor 05:10
If you say that coupled with your political opinion — that you are really a dissident, if you will, against Russian politics or Russian policy?
Yakov Spektor 05:49
Bring your political opinion into it. It seems like it’s kind of silly. Everybody understands what’s going on. But when you’re dealing with a government bureaucracy, it’s important to do right. And when you’re applying for asylum, it’s one of the hardest things to get from another government.
Michael Levites 06:11
So you really have to build your case. You have to really spell it out for the bureaucrats in America, who are considering your claim to really show your case, and let me ask you this.
Michael Levites 06:27
You talked about eligibility for a draft, according to Russians, because originally, they announced it’s only for men who had prior military experience. Nobody is too old. We’re only looking for 300,000 people, only 300,000 people.
Michael Levites 06:45
But that turned out, sometimes they snatch people off the street who are over 50 years old. I’ve even heard reports of people who are handicapped given draft notices. People who are in college who are not supposed to be drafted, people with no prior military experience — so then, does that really open up a wider pool of possible applicants for an asylum? You don’t have to be just a young man with prior military experience. What do you think?
Yakov Spektor 07:19
Oh, absolutely. I mentioned a dentist from Sweden (as an example previously), everybody kind of understands that if you’re from Sweden and Switzerland, or any European Union country, you probably will not get asylum in the United States because your rights are protected.
Yakov Spektor 07:42
You have redress. You can go to courts. The courts are independent. So an asylum from Switzerland sounds like a joke. Right? And it’s true, mostly. Now, if you’re from North Korea, for example, I don’t even need to know your story to suspect that, most likely, you might be persecuted in North Korea.
Michael Levites 08:09
By default, you basically applied for an asylum?
Yakov Spektor 08:14
Unfortunately, by default, nothing happens with US immigration law. If it’s done right, if you’re from North Korea, most likely, you will get asylum in the United States. And now, other countries are probably somewhere between those two extremes between Switzerland and North Korea. And unfortunately, Russia is quickly approaching towards the North Korea end of the spectrum.
Michael Levites 08:43
Yakov, now let’s talk about the practical considerations. Let’s say you are a Russian. You’re right now located in Moscow, and you want to apply for consideration for an asylum in America. Where should you go? Who do you turn to? I actually had these questions. I had people write to me on Facebook from Russia, asking me for explanation. I can’t do it. I’m not an attorney. You are an immigration attorney. Thank you again for your time for doing this seminar for people like this. What could such a person do?
Yakov Spektor 09:21
The first step is to get out of Russia. You’re not going to be able to apply for asylum in Russia. The US consulate hasn’t been operational for more than a year at this point. Save your life. Get out of Russia. That’s step number one. There are refugee programs when people can apply for the refugee status outside of the United States. But Russian citizens are not yet entitled to any of those programs.
Yakov Spektor 10:07
Get out of Russia. If you have a visa to come to the United States — a visitor visa and the other reason that would allow you to travel here, travel here. Because the only way to apply for asylum is within the United States or at the border, so if you don’t have a visa, then it becomes a little trickier.
Yakov Spektor 10:33
As you might know, there are a lot of people who try to enter the United States through the southern border. So if you do have a visa that would allow you to enter the United States — a visitor visa — come to the United States. Apply for asylum within the United States.
Yakov Spektor 10:53
Your other option, if you don’t have a visa, is to apply at the border. And that becomes a little trickier. As you know, a lot of people try to enter the United States through the southern border. You don’t need to try and surreptitiously cross the border. To enter the United States, all you need to do is reach the United States border officer.
Yakov Spektor 11:24
Now, that could be harder than you think. Because when you are leaving Mexico, you are going to pass through the Mexican Exit Control. You’re going to see Mexican border officers first, who will check your papers. And if they don’t see a visa or any other way for you to enter the United States, they’ll probably turn you away.
Michael Levites 11:49
So how do you reach an American customs agent or immigration agent?
Yakov Spektor 11:55
So Ukrainian citizens, they were able to actually reach the US border officers through the southern border. Because I don’t think there was anything in writing per se, but some Mexican border officers would allow Ukrainian asylum seekers or refugees to reach the United States border officers. Now Russian citizens sometimes they would get in, sometimes not.
Yakov Spektor 12:29
Since this had occurred, Ukrainian citizens are going through another process. But the Russian citizens are still oftentimes trying to reach the United States border officers through the border. Now whether you’re going to be able to reach the United States border officers through the Mexican border people really depends on when you’re going to be trying to come in because that policy changes quite a lot. Sometimes people report success trying to come in at, let’s say, Tijuana, San Diego border crossing. Sometimes they have more success, trying to come in through checks and border crossing. Sometimes people report success trying to enter in a car.
Michael Levites 13:24
I actually heard that. Let’s talk about that because I actually heard reports that if you go through a car, it is easier because there’s some kind of vagueness in the law. Regarding crossing, if it’s by foot, that’s one thing. Is there any truth to that?
Yakov Spektor 13:42
Take everything I say right now with a grain of salt. I haven’t done that crossing myself. I haven’t tried to seek asylum at the border. This is just something that my colleagues might tell me, my clients might tell me, but if you’re trying to enter in the car, then you kind of go through a separate line. And the reason is because, as you know, if you’re trying to enter any border in a car, you might see a big plaza. Kind of if you’re going to enter the New Jersey Turnpike, you might see a big plaza with toll booths, but instead of people who are collecting your money, either border officers looking at your papers.
Yakov Spektor 14:24
And first, you will encounter the Mexican border officers. So if you’re entering in the car, oftentimes the Mexican border officers, especially when there’s tens of thousands of cars going through that particular crossing, like the Otay Mesa, they might just check the papers of the driver. And let’s say if one of your friends is a US citizen or permanent resident, and then they would wave you through it. Then you might reach the US border officers, on that point, apply for asylum.
Michael Levites 14:56
So it’s best to have a driver who has an American driver’s license or passport or something?
Yakov Spektor 15:02
I heard that people do encounter some success doing that. It’s crazy legal. So in no way would I ever recommend breaking the law.
Michael Levites 15:14
But we’re not here for that. We’re just here to give examples of what’s out there.
Yakov Spektor 15:20
Absolutely. And I will tell you this if you’re seeking asylum, that’s exactly why you are not necessarily arrested for crossing the border illegally. The government understands that you will see people do a lot of things when their lives are in danger. You know, trying to enter a safe city, even if it means that you might be trying to approach a border officer without a visa, is not exactly too high on the list of crimes.
Yakov Spektor 15:53
So it’s something that whether you would plan to try this or recommend anyone to try this, you have to understand that this is not 100% safe. It might not even be 100% legal, but if you’re trying to save your life or the life of your loved ones, it’s probably going to be okay.
Michael Levites 16:18
Let’s say you have some luck actually crossing the border legally or illegally. You encounter a US agent, you present yourself and ask nicely, politely for asylum based on the fact that you’re a Russian draft dodger. What happens next? Are you then detained right away? Is that what happens?
Yakov Spektor 16:41
Yes, you might be detained. For how long you will be detained really depends on your particular situation. Or even the border officer who is looking at your particular situation.
Yakov Spektor 16:54
Let me give you an example. If, let’s say, your name matches the name of somebody on their most wanted list. You might be detained for a little longer while they make sure that you’re not that person. If you have any sort of potential criminal record, they might not release you at all.
Yakov Spektor 17:17
Criminal record in America?
Yakov Spektor 17:21
Anywhere in the world. They might not release. What might have to happen is that you would have to get someone like me to ask an immigration judge for a bond. And then maybe, if it’s not something major, a judge would release you after you or your relatives pay bond for you, which will be returned to you after completing your court proceedings.
Michael Levites 17:50
And let me just clarify if they released you on bond, are you then been placed on ankle monitor and you guys stay in the house arrest, or you’re free to move around?
Yakov Spektor 18:00
You’re free to move around within the United States.
Michael Levites 18:02
Okay, very good. And how long does it take to actually obtain the hearing if you qualify for asylum?
Yakov Spektor 18:10
It’s usually scheduled relatively quickly, within days. Or maybe a week or two, in most cases. Unless there is a really a lot of people going through the border and seeking asylum.
Yakov Spektor 18:24
It’s important to line up ahead of time? Friends, relatives who can vouch for you and say they’ll provide for you assistance, lodging, food, and so on.
Yakov Spektor 18:24
Right now, once again, as of October 21, 2022. The policy of the US government, when it comes to the borders, is that not many people get detained. If they could really demonstrate that there is a reasonable fear of them going back. If they have friends or relatives who they might be able to go to —
Yakov Spektor 19:03
That will be helpful. Not necessarily required, but definitely helpful. One thing to consider is if you are going to be going that route, make sure that you don’t have an arrest record. Make sure that you do not look suspicious to the US border officers.
Yakov Spektor 19:29
It sounds like a really silly advice. So I will have to complement that a little bit. What that means is that, as I said, they’re looking for a particular type of person, right? So obviously, you know, if you have a criminal record, maybe that’s not the right route for you. You will just spend time in detention.
Yakov Spektor 19:49
If, let’s say, your name happens to be Osama Bin Laden. You might expect to spend more time while they make sure that it’s just namesake and you’re not the actual Osama Bin Laden.
Yakov Spektor 20:02
If you are coming in with your girlfriend, but you’re not actually married, and let’s say you’re bringing two or three of her other friends, the government might suspect that maybe you’re bringing in people for human trafficking.
Michael Levites 20:20
Oh, wow. Okay, interesting.
Yakov Spektor 20:22
So what that means is that, once again, you might be detained for a little longer while the government sends someone to have an interview with you or to investigate your situation a little closer.
Michael Levites 20:34
I see. Yakov, let me ask you a question. Let’s say they decide – the government – you don’t qualify. How long does it take this hearing? How long would you spend in detention? Let’s say you have a criminal record, you coming in with five girls, you’ve fallen into suspicion, you don’t get qualified. How long do you expect to stay in detention?
Yakov Spektor 20:59
You know, it really depends on you. Strangely enough, in that particular case, Of course, if you do have a criminal record, and there is a warrant for your arrest, a red warrant when the US government has the right to arrest you and hold you, and then maybe deport you to the country that actually issued that particular warrant. You’re not getting out.
Yakov Spektor 21:23
But in most other cases, don’t forget that you’re in immigration detention. If you tell the government, “Hey, you know what, I changed my mind. I am not seeking asylum.” Then the government will make arrangements for you to leave.
Yakov Spektor 21:37
So whether it takes hours or a few days or a couple of weeks, once again, it really depends on your particular situation where you ended up, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. If you try to stay and the judge, let’s say, denies you bond, but you still want to exhaust all the possibilities that might allow you to stay in the United States, then you could expect to stay to remain in detention for months until potentially the government hears your case and maybe even hears the appeal.
Michael Levites 22:15
You know, what I hear here is that because there’s no special program for Russian draft dodgers, it looks like a very murky process. If you go at it alone, you may get lost. And the outcome may not be what you desire. You may be sent back without any luck.
Michael Levites 22:47
Of course, if you get an attorney, there’s never a guarantee of success. But at least somebody’s holding your hand, who knows the process, who can guide you, because there’s so many moves you could make that could be wrong. Step left, and you could be out of line. So you have to really coordinate everything, think everything through.
Michael Levites 23:11
So I suggest, Yakov, that somebody is trying to escape Russia or escape is serious to coming to the US on asylum grounds. Contact an attorney, an immigration attorney like yourself, so that you can get a piece the consultation, and then if you like the attorney you want to go forward, retain an attorney who can be with you every step of the way.
Michael Levites 23:37
It’s very important to have somebody, an advocate, somebody who actually is your agent. Is your protector, if you will. Who will advocate, fight for you for your rights, and who actually feels your pain because this is not a pleasant experience. So you definitely want someone with sympathy and experience. Did I sum it up correctly, Yakov?
Yakov Spektor 24:05
Absolutely. If the stakes are high and you are entering unfamiliar territory. Literally and metaphorically in this case. Hire a professional.
Michael Levites 24:14
We had a whole session before. There are a lot of fraudsters out there that prey on people like that, take money from them, say they’re cheaper than attorneys, guarantee results. And then people get stuck. And listening to better advice is not a defense. It’s not an excuse. So don’t do that. Don’t go that route. Decide to take somebody. Take an attorney.
Michael Levites 24:18
Yakov, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. We couldn’t cover everything at once. It’s a lot of information. So please watch this video, watch our prior videos. And Yakov is here to help if you have any questions for you or your loved ones.
Michael Levites 24:58
By the way, a lot of people who approached me here, they have loved ones in Russia. They’re asking for their friends and relatives. So if you’re one of those persons and you care about your friends, you want to help them out escape a dangerous situation that they have no part in, did not want to be in – then contact Yakov Spektor for a consultation, and then take it from there.
Michael Levites 25:23
Yakov, thank you so much for your time. We’ll see you again.
Yakov Spektor 25:26
Thank you, Michael. Always a pleasure.
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DISCLAIMER: This information is for reference only and might vary depending on your situation. Please always consult your lawyer for legal matters. The video and transcript posted here was recorded in October 2022.