The purpose of the United States’ asylum program is fairly simple: to help protect people who face persecution in their home country. Individuals granted asylum can stay in the U.S. indefinitely, and may have the opportunity to apply for permanent residence.

But what is the asylum process actually like? Here is an overview of what someone applying for asylum can expect.

The basics of asylum

Asylum is a way for people worried about persecution in their home country to seek safety in the U.S. This persecution could be due to the person’s:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Participation in a social group
  • Political opinion

Someone who wants to request asylum has to do so while in the U.S. or at a port of entry. Applying requires you to fill out and submit Immigration Form I-589, along with a variety of documents supporting both your personal story as well as the inhumane conditions of the country you are fleeing. If you have correctly submitted the application, you’ll receive a notice. At that point, you have to simply wait for your asylum interview.

If you’re lucky, you could be one of the randomly chosen applicants to get an interview within a couple months. More likely however, you’ll be one of the many people for whom the process takes longer, maybe even more than a year.

Once you do the asylum interview, you’ll generally hear a decision either granting or denying asylum within a couple of weeks.

Policies and laws are constantly changing

The process of applying for asylum could be slow beforehand. Now however, in a climate of constant change, the process can be even more unpredictable.

For example, the current administration is rolling out efforts to begin collecting DNA from asylum-seekers, which one official told TIME was, in part, about adding another hurdle to the process as a way to dissuade new applicants. And the administration is still working to fully implement policies it previously put in place, including one that allows ICE to quickly deport undocumented immigrants who did not seek asylum in a different country prior to reaching the U.S. border.

The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, is taking up a case that might allow denied asylum-seekers the chance to take their case to federal court. The outcome of this case could have a significant impact on options for asylum-seekers in the future.

Applying for asylum is complex. It can be slow, and at times frustrating. Small mistakes can have serious repercussions down the line. That’s why it can be important to have proper support during the process, such as from an immigration attorney. The key is to remain patient while putting forward the strongest case possible, one that adheres to current U.S. policy and offers clear evidence of the dangers an applicant faces in another country.