Under United States law, asylees and refugees differ based on one respect: the location from which they apply for asylum.
A refugee seeks entry and protection before entering the United States. The U.S. Code provides the following definition:
The term “refugee” means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,8 USC § 1101(a)(42)
By comparison, an asylee seeks admission and protection under section 208 of the INA after being already physically present in the United States. The U.S. Code provides:
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.8 U.S.C. § 1158(a)(1)