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Current Trends in Political Asylum Based on Sexual Orientation

Despite entrenched opposition in some quarters to same-sex marriage, the United States is one of the most accepting countries in the world for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) community. Given the openness of our society, we sometimes forget that LGBT persons in other countries face discrimination and persecution for their sexual orientation. Foreign nationals who identify as LGBT should know that U.S. immigration law allows political asylum based on sexual orientation under certain circumstances. LGBT persons who face persecution at home may be able to immigrate as asylum seekers.

Requirements for immigration as a political asylum seeker

U.S. immigration law allows foreign nationals to petition for protection based on persecution they’ve suffered in their home country. To qualify, an asylum seeker must assert a well-founded fear of being persecuted on reasons of:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion LGBT asylum applicants usually fall under “membership of a particular social group”. 

Persons who identify as LGBT have been successful petitioning for asylum on the basis of their membership in a particular social group. To make a successful case, they must demonstrate two things:

  • Visibility — Their country of origin recognizes LGBT persons as a separate and distinct social group.
  • Persecution — Treatment of LGBT persons in their home country goes beyond discrimination and rises to the level of persecution. This may include criminalizing the expression of LGBT identity, or being forced to endure harsh treatments to change sexual orientation.

Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of a person’s circumstances.

Russian asylum seekers increase following passage of anti-gay laws

In recent years, some of the most visible persecution of the LGBT community has come from Russia, where Pres. Vladimir Putin has spear-headed anti-gay legislation. Under the guise of protecting its children and encouraging its birthrate, Russia has outlawed "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships." Violent attacks by anti-gay groups followed. Gay parents live in fear that their children will be taken from them.

Not surprisingly, there has been a spike in asylum applications from Russian nationals, which rose from 722 in 2012 to 837 in 2013 and 969 in 2014. While political persecution under Putin is also a driver of asylum applications, there can be no doubt that a significant portion of this increase comes from the LGBT community who face danger every day, not only on the streets of Russia, but around the world.

If you or someone you care about faces persecution based on sexual orientation, speak to an experienced asylum lawyer at Bretz & Coven, LLP. We treat you with the dignity you deserve as we work to resolve your immigration issues quickly and effectively. Call us today at 1 (212) 267-2555 or contact our office online to schedule a confidential appointment. 

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