If you're able to submit a case for asylum in the U.S., your likelihood of success depends on many factors; from court decisions to the latest presidential administration's attitude toward people fleeing persecution. The result is that your chances of obtaining asylum are difficult to predict, as explained further below.
Fortunately, the basic law of asylum governs all government decisions, even if it is sometimes stretched in different directions. In order to demonstrate that you are entitled to asylum, you must first show that you meet the definition of a "refugee"—that is, that you cannot return to your home country because you were persecuted there or because you fear persecution there in the future. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1158.)
You must show that this persecution was (or would be) inflicted on you because of one or more "protected grounds": your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. You must also show that you were persecuted either by your country's government directly (for example, police, army, or government officials) or by a nongovernmental group that your government was unwilling or unable to control (such as a gang, cartel, rogue group of police officers, or the like).
What's more, you must show that no "bars" (factors preventing your eligibility) block you from an asylum grant.
These standards can be difficult to meet. But the important point here is that the do require the government officer deciding on your case to carefully consider the applicable legal standards, rather than just making a decision based on their own feelings.
The chances of gaining asylum in the U.S. were definitely lower under the Trump Administration than they'd been for years, because of factors like new regulations interpreting the law, pressure on asylum officers and judges to make quick decisions, and overall anti-immigrant attitude.
The subsequent Biden-Harris administration ordered a complete review of Trump's asylum-related regulations, has tried to promote fairer treatment of all immigrants, and has appointed more moderate immigration judges. But the damage has not all been undone, and they have actually re-promulgated some harsh regulations concerning people seeking asylum at the Southern border.
No matter what, your asylum application will be primarily decided based on your unique facts, evidence, and witness statements. And asylum officers and Immigration Judges have a fair amount of discretion. That can be a good thing, meaning that a principled officer or judge will grant asylum even when working for an unsympathetic administration. But the opposite is also true. The bottom line is that your chances of approval for asylum will always vary depending on who gets assigned to your case.
As discouraging as the mixed set of circumstances described above can be, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that you will obtain asylum in the United States, both in your written application and in your personal meetings with U.S. government officers or judges.
First, pay close attention to whether you meet all the legal requirements for asylum. This includes making sure your application contains sufficient information about your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, tribal and clan membership, or political affiliations—explaining how you were (or would be) hurt or threatened because of a "protected ground." Include names of people and places, as well as dates when relevant. If you cannot remember specific dates, try to include the month and the year (if you can remember them accurately). Do not try to guess any details you cannot remember.
You will also need to include detailed information about yourself: how you personally were harmed in the past, why you are afraid to return, why you were harmed, and what you believe would happen to you if you had to return to your home country. Although you should also include information about your friends and family members who have also been persecuted, your application must focus on you.
The next step is to show the U.S. government how the person(s) persecuting you did so because of one or more of the "protected grounds." You will not qualify for asylum if you were being hurt for personal reasons only or were just a random victim. A protected ground does not have to be the only reason why you were persecuted. But it does need to be one of the main reasons you were—or in the future, would be—hurt. See Why Were You Persecuted? Proving the "Nexus" or Motivation in an Asylum Claim for more information.
Your personal credibility or believability is critical to showing why you are entitled to asylum. The U.S. government official deciding your case needs to be able to rely on your word, since you likely won't be able to provide authoritative proof of many of your assertions. In addition, you'll also need to avoid a situation where you are found to have lied or submitted a frivolous asylum application, in which case you will be forever barred from any U.S. visa or green card.
To increase the chances that you will be found credible, make sure all of your written and oral statements are true, detailed, complete (to the best of your memory), and consistent (with your other statements, with any other evidence you submitted, and with reports about your country). You might need to clean up past lies—for instance, if you entered the U.S. with a false passport, come clean about it, and prove who you really are.
It can also help to practice for any in-person interviews. Sit down with your lawyer or a friend, and have them ask you questions about your claim. If you tend to go quiet or forget things under stress, this practice will be even more critical. Afterwards, ask the person interviewing you to give their impressions of your credibility. If they say something like, "When you kept shredding that piece of paper, I wondered if you were nervous because you were lying," that's something to work on.
You should attach a written declaration to your asylum application. That way, you can provide many more details than you can include on the required Form I-589 alone. This will help the asylum officer or Immigration Judge better understand why you are applying.
Attaching various other documents will greatly increase your chances of obtaining asylum. U.S. law requires that you produce all reasonably available evidence helping to explain what had happened to you or what would happen to you if you returned. Such evidence might include, depending on your specific case:
If you cannot produce such documents, you should explain why not.
Your claim will be evaluated against evidence of human rights conditions in your home country. Therefore, you should also include copies of reports about your country from sources such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or the U.S. State Department. Make sure that your personal application details are consistent with those reports.
In addition to proving that you meet every element of an asylum claim, you must show that nothing prevents you from obtaining asylum. You will not be able to obtain asylum if any of the following "bars" apply to you:
If you think that an asylum officer or an Immigration Judge might think that a bar applies to you, explain in detail why it does not, or better yet, consult an attorney.
Even if you meet all the factors of the "refugee" definition and no bars prevent you from obtaining asylum, U.S. asylum officers and Immigration Judges can consider discretionary factors when deciding your asylum claim. Such factors might include:
If you think that some positive discretionary factors apply to you, make sure to mention them in your application.
As a backup, it's also a good idea to apply for alternative forms of relief, such as Withholding of Removal, and Convention Against Torture Protection. Keep in mind, however, that only an Immigration Judge, not an asylum officer, can approve your application for Withholding of Removal or Convention Against Torture Protection. But if you apply "affirmatively" and your application is not approved by the Asylum Office, your next step will be a hearing in Immigration Court.
Rates of asylum grants differ between different asylum offices and various Immigration Courts. Your chances will depend mostly on:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides general statistics about grants of asylee and refugee status. In 2022, for example, it reported that in the previous year, 17,692 people were granted asylum out of 62,795 who applied. This includes 10,325 who were granted asylum affirmatively after submitting an I-589 application, and 7,367 who were granted asylum after presenting it as a defense in immigration court proceedings. The top countries whose residents were approved for asylum include Venezuela, the People's Republic of China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Turkey, Honduras, Egypt, India, Mexico, and Russia.
There is a lot of criticism and controversy about the degree to which asylum approval rates differ among different asylum officers and Immigration Judges across the United States. See, for example, the statistics kept by TRAC Immigration. You're likely to see names of judges who grant only 15% of the asylum cases they hear, and names of other judges who grant up to 95% of the asylum cases they hear. It's unlikely that such a wide range in approval rates is due only to the quality of cases coming before those judges.
Of course, approval rates depend on some factors that are beyond the applicants' control, such as what country they are from and where they now live. They might also depend on the gender and prior professional background or political views of the asylum officer or Immigration Judge assigned to their case. (You have no choice in that matter.)
And, they might depend on whether conditions in the home country change by the time one's case is heard; a particular concern given the years-long waits that have become the norm in U.S. immigration courts. (See At the Breaking Point: Rethinking the U.S. Immigration Court System; the average wait was four years in mid-2023.) If the immigration judge thinks the applicant no longer has a reasonable fear of persecution because of a new regime, changed legal system, or something similar, the case could be denied.
Basically, even with the strongest of cases, you'll need a bit of luck on your side.
A good attorney might improve your chances of obtaining asylum. The attorney can help you highlight the most compelling portions of your claim, overcome any negative information, prepare the paperwork and supporting documents, help you prepare to testify, and appear with you, either at the Asylum Office or in Immigration Court.
Fortunately, asylum is an area where you'll find a lot of help from volunteer attorneys or nonprofit (charitable) organizations serving immigrants and refugees.