Can I Claim Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Tibet?

Tibetan nationals have a high success rate at obtaining asylum in the U.S., but also face unique challenges.

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The number of Tibetans seeking asylum in the United States increased greatly with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 (IMMACT), which made 1,000 visas available to “qualified displaced Tibetans” (natives of Tibet who had been continuously residing in India or Nepal).

Once Tibetans began receiving visas to immigrate to the United States, others followed to seek asylum and join the newly formed Tibetan communities. By 2010 there were approximately 10,000 Tibetans in the United States. (See “Tibetan Immigrants in the United States: Extended Version” on Journey of a Tibetan, July 20, 2012.) One of the largest Tibetan communities is in New York.

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Tibet?

Many Tibetans who manage to enter the United States and apply for asylum are granted. This is because Chinese human rights violations against Tibetans are well known. If you are a Tibetan, the most important part of claiming asylum will likely be to convince the Immigration Judge or Asylum Officer of your identity and the place you were born.

Since China invaded Tibet in 1949, causing the Dalai Lama to flee to India ten years later, the question of whether Tibet is an independent country or part of China remains unresolved. The world currently considers Tibet the “Tibetan Autonomous Region” and part of China.

From an immigration standpoint, this means that Tibetans do not travel on Tibetan passports. Some Tibetans from Tibet choose to apply for and are able to obtain Chinese passports. Many of these applicants tell the judge or officer that they are not Chinese citizens and only obtained the passport to escape Tibet.

Tibetans from Nepal and India usually arrive in the U.S. using fraudulent passports. (While this might be considered visa fraud in many immigration contexts, it is ordinarily excused in the case of a person who deserves asylum.) Whether from Tibet, India or Nepal, Tibetans are typically considered “stateless.”

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical from Tibet?

Most Tibetans seeking asylum in the United States claim to have been persecuted or fear persecution from the Chinese government on account of their religion, race, nationality, or political opinion. There is no question that Tibetans in Tibet suffer persecution on account of all these grounds.

Stateless Tibetans born in Nepal or India must explain whether they have permanent status in either country, so as to overcome the "firmly resettled in a third countrybar to asylum. Those Tibetans who have no status in India or Nepal and who can be deported to Tibet at any time should explain their fear of future persecution in Tibet in addition to any other harm they have experienced or fear. Some Tibetans from Nepal or India claim to have been persecuted by the Indian or Nepalese governments either during demonstrations or at boarder crossings.

Tibetans who have not personally been harmed can win asylum by explaining that they are included with a group of persons against who exists a pattern or practice of persecution. (See I.N.A. Section 208.13(b)(2).)

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims from Tibet?

Immigration judges and asylum officers might question or at least more closely examine claims from Tibetan asylum applicants who traveled using a Chinese passport, since there would be a presumption that that person is a Chinese citizen who could travel freely.

Almost all Tibetans possess a “green book” issued by the Tibetan Government in Exile (CTA), which lists contributions to the CTA. If the Tibetan asylum applicant does not have a green book, the judge or officer will want to know why not.

Tibetans from Nepal will need to convince the judge or officer that they are not actually from Mustang. If the judge or officer believes you are from Mustang, you may have a difficult time explaining why you fear persecution.

What Can Tibetan Asylum Seekers Do to Increase Their Chances of Success?

Tibetans should do their best to establish their identity and prove where they have resided. If you are from India or Nepal, you should explain what status you have or lack in those countries, as well as what freedoms you had or lacked living there.

Nuns and monks should be able to explain their religious beliefs. You should also explain what dialect of Tibetan you speak and why — this will help the judge or officer believe you were born where you say you were born.

If you traveled on a Chinese passport, explain why you obtained one and any problems you had leaving the country. If you walked across the boarder to Nepal, you should be prepared to detail the journey.

Country conditions information with which to support your claim can be found in newspapers and government reports, such as the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

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