Chances of Winning a Grant of Asylum in the U.S.

Whether you will be granted asylum in the U.S. depends on many legal and political factors, and your chances of obtaining asylum are difficult to predict.

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. Below, we'll examine:

  • what to know about U.S. legal standards for granting asylum
  • how the current presidential administration affects grants
  • strategies for presenting a strong case
  • discretionary factors that decision makers take into account, and
  • what the numbers show as to how many people are typically granted asylum.

Underlying Law as to Who Merits Asylum in the United States

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 out of five "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 none of the statutory "bars" (factors preventing eligibility) block you from an asylum grant.

These standards can be difficult to meet. But the important point here is that they do require the government officer deciding on your case to carefully consider applicable legal standards, rather than just making a decision based on personal feelings or biases.

How Presidential Administration Affects Someone's U.S. Asylum Prospects

The chances of gaining asylum in the U.S. definitely vary depending on which way the political winds are blowing. Under the Trump Administration, approvals went lower than they'd been in 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 has tried to promote fairer treatment of immigrants, and appointed more moderate immigration judges. But the damage has not all been undone, and they have actually re-promulgated harsh regulations concerning people seeking asylum at the Southern border.

How to Improve Your Chance of Qualifying for Asylum

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've shown that you meet all the legal requirements for asylum. For instance, if you're claiming to have been persecuted based on religion, find ways to prove you are a member of that religion, and that persecution of that religion is a feature of life in your country. Also make sure your accounts include details, such as 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 at 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 any friends and family members who were also 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 or will persecuted. But it does need to be one of the main reasons. See Why Were You Persecuted? Proving the "Nexus" or Motivation in an Asylum Claim for more information.

How Personal Credibility Affects Whether You'll Be Granted Asylum

Your personal credibility or believability is critical to showing 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 need to avoid a situation where you are found to have lied or submitted a frivolous asylum application, in which case you would be forever barred from any U.S. visa or green card.

To increase the chances of being 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 critical. Afterwards, ask the person interviewing you to give 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.

How Written Materials Can Support a Claim for Asylum

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 happened to you or what would happen to you if you returned. Such evidence might include, depending on your 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, 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.

How to Show That No Statutory Bars Apply to You

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 you:

  • ordered, helped, or participated in persecuting another person because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, or political opinion
  • were convicted of a particularly serious crime
  • were arrested or charged with a serious non-political crime outside the United States.
  • pose a danger to the security of the United States
  • have "firmly resettled" in another safe country before arriving in the United States.
  • are a member of or have helped a terrorist group
  • filed for asylum more than one year after entering the U.S. (unless you meet one of the exceptions).

If it's looking like an asylum officer or an Immigration Judge thinks one of these bars applies to you, explain in detail why it does not. Better yet, consult an attorney.

Discretionary Factors Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges Consider When Deciding an Asylum Case

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:

  • whether you entered the U.S using false documents
  • whether you can return to another safe country
  • how old and healthy you are, and whether you have family here
  • whether you have committed minor crimes
  • whether you have good character, and
  • how extreme your persecution was.

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.

Statistical Data on Rates of Obtaining Asylum

Rates of asylum grants differ between different asylum offices and various Immigration Courts. Your chances will depend mostly on:

  1. the strength of your asylum claim
  2. applicability of any bars
  3. presence of negative and positive discretionary factors, and
  4. the specific asylum officer or Immigration Judge who decides your case, and the degree to which they are influenced by current presidential administration.

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.

The Immigration Court provides statistics of its own, and reported (via PDF) that in 2023, only 14.4% of cases filed in court were granted (though the vast majority were withdrawn, abandoned, or otherwise never brought to completion).

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 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 have changed 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 backlog is at record levels, and 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.

Getting Legal Help

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.

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