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 , Attorney · American University Washington College of Law

Despite being the world's largest democracy with over 1.4 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, fewer than 3,000 Indians successfully applied for asylum in the U.S. between 2013 and 2022, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security (whether affirmatively on their own, or defensively, in court proceedings).

Here, we'll discuss past trends and current possibilities when it comes to applying for asylum as someone from India.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From India?

Growing Hindu nationalism in India, accompanied by worsening mistreatment of religious and minority groups, has been a major driver of flight and asylum claims. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, there's been an increase in applications, including from former police officers, journalists, LGBT activists, Christian proselytizers, and Muslim and Sikh political activists.

Farmers also became activists, after government attempts to remove price regulations disrupted their livelihoods.

Historically, most Indian asylum-seekers have been Sikhs, who say they've been persecuted or fear persecution by the Indian government on account of their religion or political opinion. The height of violence against Sikhs in India occurred in 1984, when thousands were killed after an incident involving the Golden Temple (retribution for the murder of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards). 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.

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 giving testimony. For instance, 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.

Credibility can also be an issue. If, for example, a citizen of India claimed to have been persecuted as farmer who engaged in protests, they will need to show familiarity with basic farming techniques.

Also, if a judge or officer suspects ties to a designated terrorist group, an applicant will likely be disqualified for asylum. (See Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status.)

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

It is critical to substantiate your asylum 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.

Getting Legal Help

An experienced immigration attorney can be hugely helpful in gathering supporting documents from independent sources, linking you up with medical professionals if you've been tortured or affected psychologically by the persecution, evaluating the strength of your asylum claim, drafting affidavits, preparing witnesses, and accompanying you to in-person interviews or court hearings.

Also see Applying for U.S. Asylum: How Much Will It Cost? and How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.

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