If you're able to submit a case for asylum in the U.S., whether it will be successful depends on many factors, from court decisions to the latest presidential administration's attitude toward people fleeing persecution. (Keep your eyes on Nolo's immigration legal updates for more on that.) The result is that your chances of obtaining asylum are difficult to predict. Given that they were definitely lower under the Trump Administration than they'd been for years, one might expect that it will be easier under the Biden Harris administration, which has ordered a complete review of Trump's asylum-related regulations.
Your asylum application will be primarily decided based on your unique facts, evidence, and witness statements. Moreover, asylum officers and Immigration Judges have a fair amount of discretion, and your chances vary depending on who gets assigned to your case.
Nevertheless, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that you will obtain asylum. In addition to providing detailed and truthful information about why you are entitled to asylum, you must show that no “bars” (factors preventing your eligibility) apply to you.
Also realize that your personal credibility is critical to succeeding on your asylum claim. Not only will the U.S. government official deciding your case need to rely on your word to grant your case, but if you are found to have lied or submitted a frivolous asylum application, 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 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).
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.
Finally, you must show that you were persecuted by your country’s government (for example, police, army, or government officials) or by a nongovernmental group that your government is unwilling or unable to control.
Separately consider how to prove every element of your asylum claim.
To increase your chances of demonstrating that you meet these factors, provide detailed, honest, and consistent information about yourself. 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.
Make sure to include 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 if you cannot remember them.
Also 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. Do not simply write general statements.
Although you should also include information about your friends and family members who have also been persecuted, your application must focus on you.
Explain 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, as long as it was one of the main reasons you were—or in the future, would be—hurt.)
You should attach a written declaration to your asylum application. That way, you can provide many more details than you can include on Form I-589 alone. This will help the asylum officer or Immigration Judge better understand why you are applying.
Attaching various 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: student identification cards; union membership cards; political or religious group membership cards; pictures of your injuries; newspaper articles about you (or about your family, friends, or others in situations similar to yours); hospital records; and any complaints or police reports you filed about your persecution. 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 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 consult an attorney.
Even if you meet all the factors of the “refugee” definition and no bars prevent you from obtaining asylum, 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.
Rates of asylum grants differ between different asylum offices and various Immigration Courts. Approval rates dropped during the Trump Administration. Your chances will depend on:
There is a lot of criticism and controversy about the degree to which asylum approval rates differ among different asylum officers and Immigration Judges. See, for example, the statistics kept by TRAC Immigration. These rates depend on some factors that are beyond your control, such as what country you are from, where you now live, and the gender and prior professional background or political views of your asylum officer or Immigration Judge.
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, and help you prepare to testify.