How Medical Professionals Can Assist With an Asylum Claim
Physicians can take a careful look at what harm you suffered in your home country, and supply written or oral evidence on your behalf.
This article will discuss how medical professionals can provide helpful materials to support your asylum application. In order to qualify for asylum relief, you must be physically present in the U.S. and have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. You must also be unable or unwilling to return to your country of nationality or to the country in which you last resided because of your fear of persecution.
When you apply for asylum, you should submit various documents along with Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal in order to persuade the asylum officer or immigration judge who will decide your case. Because persecution can involve various types of physical or emotional harm, some of these documents may need to address medical or psychological concerns.
For broader information about how to prepare a convincing asylum application, see Nolo’s article, “Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application.”
Types of Evidence That a Doctor Can Provide
Depending on your basis for asylum, a doctor can support your application by providing a number of important documents such as:
- a letter or medical report diagnosing your physical condition
- a letter or medical report detailing any mental or emotional impairment, or
- an affidavit to serve as an expert report if your physician has experience treating individuals from your home country or with your specific medical condition.
Asking Your Doctor for a Letter of Diagnosis
If you have scars or physical impairments due to persecution in your home country, a doctor can examine you and prepare a detailed report.
It can be very difficult to tell a government officer or judge all the details of the physical trauma that happened to you, which is why it is important for a neutral third party to help you describe this abuse. For example, if you are a woman presenting a social group claim of persecution based on female genital mutilation (FGM), you should have a doctor examine you and describe the type of FGM you have experienced and the long-term physical and emotional effects the procedure will have in your life. The same is true for any mental trauma caused by persecution in your home country.
A medical report can corroborate the personal statement (affidavit) that you submit with your asylum application.
If your physician is not familiar with documenting abuse and trauma for asylum claims, you should provide materials to help him or her write a convincing letter of diagnosis. The nonprofit organization Physicians for Human Rightshas a number of excellent educational resources to assist medical professionals in helping asylees, including quick fact sheets.
Asking Your Doctor to Serve as Expert Witness
A doctor may also serve as an expert in a specific field. This can be particularly helpful to your case if the doctor has specialized experience working with people from your country or with those who suffer from your specific physical or mental condition. For example, a doctor with country expertise can supply you with a written affidavit not only describing your own physical or emotional condition, but testifying to how what you suffered is consistent with what the doctor has observed among other people from your country.
The doctor should also include information within the affidavit describing, or a separate letter, report, CV, or resume discussing, his or her background and expertise. You may also include relevant publications, awards, and speeches from your physician.
If you are filing your asylum application in removal (deportation) proceedings or if your affirmative case has been referred to Immigration Court, you may want to consider also asking your physician to testify on your behalf. In most cases, health professionals are able to testify by telephone. For more information, see “Bringing Witnesses to Immigration Court.”
A Mental Health Professional Can Provide a Medical Evaluation
If you do not have any physical condition resulting from your fear of persecution in your home country, you should consider visiting a mental health professional who may be able to bolster your asylum application. A psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, or therapist can provide you with a psychological evaluation where he or she asks you various questions and gives you tests in order to diagnose the psychological effects of your persecution in your home country (such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder). The psychological expert will talk to you about your past and any emotional issues you are having, and then prepare a report for you to include with your asylum application. This report may include the following:
- a description of your clinical interview,
- any relevant behavioral observations,
- any tests he or she administered and a detailed assessment of those test results,
- a summary of his or her diagnosis and conclusions, including the seriousness of your condition, and recommendations for a future treatment, such as therapy sessions or prescription medication.
Medical Professionals Can Help You Overcome the One-Year Filing Requirement
Generally, you must apply for asylum within one year of your arrival into the United States. Two exceptions to this rule are changed circumstances in your home country materially affecting your eligibility for asylum and extraordinary circumstances related to the delay in filing. Examples of an extraordinary circumstance that could prove why you are filing your asylum application late include a serious illness or physical disability or a serious illness of your immediate family member during part of the one-year period following your U.S. arrival. Therefore, a medical report from a doctor or mental health professional describing your illness or an immediate family member’s illness (coupled with other proof explaining your delay) may explain why you are filing your asylum application late.
Choosing a Medical Professional If You Don't Already Have One
You may prefer to go to your own doctor or psychologist, but if you do not have one, many immigration assistance groups, lawyers, or non-profits can provide you with a list of medical professionals that can help with your case. Charges for these medical services may vary, but immigrant assistance groups and attorneys often have lists of medical professionals who can assist asylees for free or for a reduced cost.
Consider Hiring an Attorney to Assist You in Filing Your Asylum Application
Doctors and psychiatrists can provide helpful evidence to submit with your asylum application, but keep in mind that it is very difficult to win an asylum case on your own, even with corroborating evidence from a medical professional.
Asylum cases vary widely, so the types of documents needed are highly dependent on the nature of your claim. This is why you should consult an experienced immigration attorney before you submit your asylum application. . If you cannot afford an attorney, many nonprofit organizations can provide a list of pro bono (free) or low-cost attorneys who might be able to help you.