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, well over 3,000 Indians affirmatively applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2019 to 2021, according to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, and over 2,000 were granted.
Here, we'll discuss past trends and current possibilities when it comes to applying for asylum as someone from India.
Recently, growing Hindu nationalism in India, accompanied by a crackdown on 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.
Historically, however, 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 of these Sikh asylum applicants flew directly to the United States, entering at either New York or San Francisco and joining large Sikh communities.
Around 2013, however, 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, subsequent efforts to deter asylum seekers from approaching via the southern border have made this a far less attractive possibility than it once was, though many continue to try it.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.