Can I Apply for U.S. Asylum If I'm From India?

Thousands of Indian citizens annually leave their country to seek asylum. Learn about their possibilities for a successful claim.

By , J.D., LL.M.

Despite being the world's largest democracy with over 1.3 billion people, thousands of Indians regularly leave India to seek asylum in the U.S. and elsewhere. It's often on the top-ten list of countries from whom asylum seekers come to the United States. For example, more than 4,000 Indians affirmatively applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2017, according to the latest figures from the Department of Homeland Security.

Historically, most Indian asylum-seekers have been Sikh. They flew directly to the U.S., entering at either New York or San Francisco and joining large Sikh communities. Around 2013, many South Asians reportedly began flying into Central America then journeying overland to reach the Southern United States. Many Indians entered this way, by approaching border officials and asking for asylum, after which they were given a date for a credible fear interview. (See, Arizona sees surge of asylum seekers from India, by Daniel Gonzalez, the Arizona Republic, 9/8/13.) However, Trump Administration efforts to deter asylum seekers from approaching via the southern border have made this a less attractive possibility than it once was.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From India?

Most asylum claims from India are made by Sikhs who say they have been persecuted or fear persecution by the Indian government on account of their Sikh religion or their political opinion.

The height of violence against Sikhs in India occurred in 1984, when thousands of Sikhs were killed after an incident involving the Golden Temple, a Sikh holy place (retribution for the murder of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards). Thirty-some years later, Sikhs still leave India claiming to have been persecuted by the government. Most claim to be part of the Akali Dal Mann, a separatist group that advocates for a Sikh homeland in Punjab.

Many other Indian asylum-seekers come from Jammu and Kashmir, alleging political repression and persecution by security forces attempting to suppress independence efforts there. People of Gujarat have also claimed asylum for having been persecuted" because of their native language and other forms of identity.

And asylum seekers from the LGBTQ community, alleging persecution owing to their sexual or gender identity, are not uncommon, either.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From India?

A U.S. immigration judge or asylum officer may deny a claim if the applicant is not credible; that is, not detailed, consistent, or plausible in his or her testimony. Importantly, there is more evidence that Sikhs are living quietly in India than there are articles exposing Sikh persecution in the years since 1984. Since an asylum applicant must have an objective as well as subjective basis for fear, lack of objective evidence can be a reason for denial.

Also, if a judge or officer suspects ties to a designated terrorist group, an applicant will likely be disqualified for asylum.

What Can Indians Do to Increase The Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

It is critical to substantiate your case with as much objective evidence as possible. Find country conditions information from authoritative sources that supports your claim, as described in Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application. If you claim to belong to a Sikh or Kashmir-independence organization, for example, make sure you prove that it is not a terrorist one.

Applicants should also be prepared to prove their religious or regional identity. If you claim to be religious, for instance, you should be able to explain your religion to the judge or officer. If you are not religious, you should be able to explain why you don't practice your religion and how any persecutor would be able to recognize your affiliation.

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