Over the years, both the mix of people applying for asylum (protection from overseas persecution) in the U.S. and the people whose applications are granted has varied a great deal. In some ways, this is as it should be. As circumstances change around the world—war and civil unrest starts or eases, governments rise and fall, tribal and other groups become the oppressors or the oppressed—changes naturally occur in who is granted asylum status and allowed to stay in the United States.
Before turning to the actual statistics, it’s worth remembering that every person’s claim for asylum is unique. True, the U.S. government has demonstrated some bias toward and against various countries’ asylum applicants over the years. Nevertheless, it does not issue any blanket statements like, “Everyone from X country probably deserves asylum.”
Individual applicants must present a convincing claim showing that they themselves were the victims of persecution, or fear future persecution. Therefore, looking at lists of which countries end up with the greatest number of its citizens granted asylum in the U.S. should not be viewed as an indicator of whether any one person’s claim is likely to succeed.
Finding out whether a lot of other asylum applicants have come from a certain country can be instructional nonetheless. For one thing, a high number of granted cases from your own country tells you that, at the very least, the asylum officer or Immigration Judge (IJ) hearing your case probably has a reasonable amount of knowledge regarding conditions in your country, and you won’t have to educate him or her about basic facts. (Then again, if the officers or IJs believe themselves to be too expert on the topic, you may find that they’ve already devised clever ways to ferret out any problems in your case.)
Another advantage if you come from a country with a lot of other asylum applicants is that the lawyer or agency working on your case can probably borrow materials from other lawyers to help support your claim. Gathering documents to show general country conditions or to back up accounts of persecution against particular groups is an important part of preparing an asylum claim.
So, with these thoughts and cautions in mind, it is possible to get government-issued statistics on the countries of origin of asylum grantees, at the Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review Statistical Year Book page. The Year Book tracks grants of defensive asylum in removal proceedings.
Keep in mind that while these statistics may include applications originally filed affirmatively with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that were denied and referred to the immigration court, it does not include those asylum applications that were originally approved by USCIS. For example, in 2016, USCIS approved 15,999 asylum applications without sending them on for court proceedings, but did not track them by nationality.
The latest Yearbook (as of early 2018) was for 2016. And the top ten countries whose citizens were granted asylum in the U.S. included (from most to least):
China alone accounted for an impressive 36% of the asylum grants in 2016, and it has topped the list in every one of the last several years. China has a large population to begin with, so this isn’t too surprising. El Salvador comes in next at a mere 8.6%.
The overall grant rate is on the decline, and was at 48% in 2016.
For more information on applying for asylum in the U.S., see the Asylum & Refugee Status page of Nolo’s website.