Your life doesn’t freeze in time when you submit an asylum application, and the U.S. government knows this. If your circumstances change while you are applying for asylum in the U.S., the U.S. government can take this into account in deciding whether to approve or deny your case.
Changed circumstances can include nearly any detail about your home country, personal life, or even changes to U.S. or foreign laws. The U.S. government may consider changed circumstances at any point in the process, whether it’s when you first submit an application for asylum or later, when you have applied to become a permanent resident based on a year of living in the U.S. as an asylee.
For more topics about asylum eligibility, please see Nolo’s section “Asylum & Refugee Status.” Keep reading for more information about how evidence of changed circumstances can affect your asylum case.
Changed Circumstances May Help You Overcome the One-Year Filing Deadline, Reopen Your Case, or File an Appeal
One of the major obstacles noncitizens face in applying for asylum is their failure to file their Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, within a year of their arrival in the United States. However, if you can demonstrate that there are changed circumstances that impacted why you didn't apply for asylum before, perhaps because you didn’t think you were eligible then, you may be able to convince USCIS or the Immigration Judge (IJ) to excuse the lateness of your application. For more information about this, please read “Can I Still Apply for Asylum After the One-Year Filing Deadline?”
In addition, if there are changed circumstances that positively affect your eligibility for asylum, you may be able to reopen your case (if a decision has already been made) or submit an appeal.
Certain Changed Circumstances Might Hurt Your Chances for Asylum
Unfortunately, improved conditions in your home country are a type of changed circumstances that can hurt your chances of winning asylum or keeping your asylee status. If the Asylum Officer adjudicating your case (or if you are in removal proceedings, the IJ or the government’s attorney) is aware of these political changes, he or she might conclude that you would now be safe from persecution if you returned to your home country.
This is why it is always important to stay up to date on the news in your home country and to come to an interview or hearing prepared with evidence to show that you still fear persecution despite these changed circumstances. Having an experienced immigration attorney offers a huge advantage in asylum cases, because it is your attorney’s job to be aware of these changed circumstances and adjust his or her arguments accordingly.
Examples of Changed Circumstances in an Applicant’s Home Country
It’s not uncommon for the political landscape in an asylum applicant’s home country to change after his or her departure, either for better or for worse. Such changes may affect eligibility for asylum. Some examples of country-specific changed circumstances include:
a new ruling party or government
political turmoil such as revolution, rebellion, riots, or gang or guerilla warfare
recent incidents of antagonism or violence against people like you (such as religious or ethnic minorities, women, or same-sex couples), or
natural disasters that have damaged the country’s infrastructure.
Here is a common type of example: You are applying for asylum based on a fear of persecution from the government because you are a religious minority. While you wait for your interview or hearing date, national elections are held and there is a change in the ruling party in your home country. This new government enacts laws and a constitution establishing religious freedom and pledges to protect all religious minorities in the country.
This sort of changed circumstance may negatively impact your case because the U.S. government may conclude that your fear of persecution is no longer justified. Nevertheless, you could potentially argue that the new government has not yet brought about any real change, and that you would face the same or similar persecution upon your return.
How Personal Changes May Qualify as Changed Circumstances
Your personal circumstances may have also changed since your arrival in the U.S. and may positively or negatively impact your chances of winning asylum. These changes may, for example, include:
marital or relationship status
a new profession
your involvement (or imputed involvement) in political activities or a close family member’s involvement in such activities
membership in new groups or organizations, or
If fundamental personal changes have occurred in your life, which you cannot or will not give up in order to escape persecution, you may have a better chance of winning asylum.
For example, you may have divorced and now fear persecution because of your new relationship and associated social status. If you were a minor (under 18) when you arrived in the U.S. and did not understand your undocumented immigration status until recently, you may now want to submit an asylum application. You (or a family member) may have published an article criticizing your country’s government and as a result, your name was put on an “enemies list,” and as a result, you cannot escape persecution by simply renouncing these views.
Legal Changes May Affect Your Asylum Eligibility
In addition, a new statute or a court decision, either in the U.S. or in your home country, may pose a changed circumstance affecting your U.S. asylum eligibility or your belief that you are now eligible for asylum relief.
For example, if you did not apply for asylum before, because you did not think you were eligible because of a criminal conviction, and a law is passed to allow noncitizens with particular convictions to apply for asylum, you will be eligible to apply now because of changed circumstances.
Or perhaps a law has been passed in your country allowing same-sex couples the right to marry. If you are basing your claim for asylum on fear of persecution based on your sexual orientation, you may have more difficulty convincing an asylum officer or IJ that your claim has merit.