Over the years, both the mix of people applying for asylum (protection from overseas persecution) in the U.S. and the people whose applications are granted has varied a great deal. In some ways, this is as it should be. As circumstances change around the world – war and civil unrest starts or eases, governments rise and fall, tribal and other groups become the oppressors or the oppressed – changes naturally occur in who is granted asylum status and allowed to stay in the United States.
Before turning to the actual statistics, it’s worth remembering that every person’s claim for asylum is unique. True, the U.S. government has demonstrated some bias toward and against various countries’ asylum applicants over the years. Nevertheless, it does not issue any blanket statements like, “Everyone from X country probably deserves asylum.”
Individual applicants must present a convincing claim showing that they themselves were the victims of persecution, or fear future persecution. Therefore, looking at lists of which countries end up with the greatest number of its citizens granted asylum in the U.S. should not be viewed as an indicator of whether any one person’s claim is likely to succeed.
Finding out whether a lot of other asylum applicants have come from a certain country can be instructional nonetheless. For one thing, a high number of granted cases from your own country tells you that, at the very least, the asylum officer or immigration judge hearing your case probably has a reasonable amount of knowledge regarding conditions in your country, and you won’t have to educate him or her about basic facts. (Then again, if the officers or IJs believe themselves to be too expert on the topic, you may find that they’ve already devised clever ways to ferret out any problems in your case.)
Another advantage if you come from a country with a lot of other asylum applicants is that the lawyer or agency working on your case can probably borrow materials from other lawyers to help support your claim. Gathering documents to show general country conditions or to back up accounts of persecution against particular groups is an important part of preparing an asylum claim.
So, with these thoughts and cautions in mind, it is possible to get government-issued statistics on the countries of origin of asylum grantees, at the Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review Statistical Year Book page.
The latest Yearbook as of this writing was for 2012. And the top 25 countries whose citizens were granted asylum in the U.S. included (from most to least):
- Soviet Union
- El Salvador
- Sri Lanka
- Moldavia (Moldova)
China alone accounts for a whopping 45% of the asylum grants in 2012, and it’s been top of the list at least as far back as 2008. China has a large population to begin with, so this isn’t too surprising.
Another important reason for China’s dominance on this list is that the definition of “refugee” found in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act states that someone “who has been forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or who has been persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control progr am, shall be deemed to have been persecuted on account of political opinion, and a person who has a well founded fear that he or she will be forced to undergo such a procedure or subject to persecution for such failure, refusal, or resistance shall bedeemed to have a well founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion.” (See I.N.A. Section 101(a)(42).)This section was added by Congress in response to China’s one-child policy, and forms the basis for many asylum claims from that country.
For more information on applying for asylum in the U.S., see the “Asylum & Refugee Status” page of Nolo’s website.