The bad news is that less than half of the people who apply for asylum in the United States have their applications approved. Even worse, some people with great cases who have been arrested, served time in prison and been tortured in their country sometimes have their applications denied.
The good news is that you may be able to significantly improve your chances of winning your case if you follow the tips listed below:
1. Don’t Apply for Asylum Simply to Get a Work Permit
It takes years to get an interview at a USCIS Asylum Office. Yet, filing an asylum application allows one to remain legally in the US, and after 150 days, to apply for an EAD work permit.
Some notaries and immigration “consultants” improperly advise people to apply for asylum simply to get a work permit.
However, doing so is fraud, and could make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to ever become a green card holder or a US citizen.
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Do not apply for asylum in the US unless you have been persecuted or have a “well-founded fear of persecution” in your country based on your (1) political opinion, (2) religion, (3) race, (4) nationality, or (5) membership in a particular social group.
2. Where You Live Affects Your Chances of Winning Your Case
Let’s say that your asylum case is before an Immigration Judge. Did you know that some Judges grant over 60% of asylum cases while others grant less than 10%?
Of course, you do not get to choose the Judge who will hear your case. But you can choose where you live.
Does this make a difference? Absolutely!
If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, most of the Judges there grant less than 20% of the asylum cases they hear. Not good odds.
In Boston, the Immigration Judges grant at least 40% of the asylum cases that come before them.
So if you move from Atlanta to Boston, you can have your case moved to the Immigration Court there and your chances of being granted asylum may improve.
Crazy system, but when your life is on the line, you need to do what is best for you and your family.
Of course, simply moving from one part of the United States to another does not turn a weak asylum case into a strong one. However, if you have a strong case, it can enable to you to have it heard by a fair and impartial judge, not one who is inclined to denial deny 80-90% of the cases that come before him/her.
Also, if you appeal an asylum denial to the Federal Courts, your odds of getting the denial overturned may be higher if you live on the West Coast (9th Circuit Court of Appeals) rather than in Georgia, Alabama or Florida (11th Circuit Court of Appeals). Caveat: changing your residence after the Immigration Judge makes a decision does not change the Appeals Court which has jurisdiction over your case, so it is better to move sooner rather than later.
3. Hire the Best Attorney You Can Find
According to a 2016 study conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, over 50% of asylum applicants in Immigration Courts who were represented by attorneys had their cases approved.
What is the denial rate for applicants without attorneys? Around 90%. Ouch!
A good attorney will help you gather evidence to support your asylum application, research BIA and Federal Court cases which pertain to your application and prepare you for direct and cross-examination in Court.
Of course, not all attorneys are created equal. You need to do your homework before hiring an attorney to assist you.
Be sure to research your attorney’s qualifications. How much experience does he/she have with asylum cases? Check out client reviews for the attorney on sites like Google and Avvo. (Okay, allow me to brag a little about our 400+ reviews. Many of the reviews relate to the other attorneys in our law firm, not to me.)
How much does the attorney charge? Money is important, but choosing the cheapest attorney may not be in your best interest. How much is your life worth?
4. Hire an Expert Witness to Help You
As a former INS Trial Attorney, I think that it is important for you to realize that while the Immigration Judge, the ICE Trial Attorney and your attorney may all be experts on immigration and asylum laws and regulations, there are professors and journalists who know far more about conditions in a particular country than we do.
Having an expert witness write a report and testify in Immigration Court is very important.
The following example tells you why:
I represented a man from Indonesia who had an asylum case in the San Francisco Immigration Court. He was afraid to return to his country because he was Chinese and a Christian.
Before the hearing started, the Immigration Judge informed us that she had never granted an asylum application to a Chinese Christian from Indonesia. She had always found that they were subject to discrimination, but not to persecution.
Our expert witness was a university professor who had spent many years studying and writing articles about the political situation in Indonesia.
I questioned him about the treatment of Christians in Indonesia. On Christmas Eve in 2000, a number of churches on various islands there were bombed.
Although the Indonesian government accused various terrorist groups of conducting the bombings, our expert had gone to Indonesia to help investigate the bombings. The investigators concluded that it was the government, not terrorists, which bombed the churches.
After questioning our expert, the Immigration Judge granted our client’s application for asylum and the government did not appeal.
Without the expert’s testimony, our client would not have won his case.
How do you find an expert to testify about conditions in your country?
The Immigrant Refugee Rights Initiative has compiled an extensive list of Country of Origin Experts with short biographies and contact information for each expert.