A young girl, part of the caravan of Central American asylum seekers who recently reached the US border, camps outside a port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico.
CNN  — 

When a caravan of Central American migrants recently showed up at the US border, many wondered what their odds of getting asylum would be.

What used to be a long, arduous quest to gain US asylum just got even tougher.

A look at asylum denial rates show extreme variances between the nationalities of people applying.


  • A protected status that allows people fleeing persecution to live legally in another country.

    Migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – which represent a large portion of US asylum seekers – have among the highest denial rates, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

    But asylum seekers from Mexico and Haiti fared even worse.

    On the flip side, some nationalities rarely have their asylum requests denied.

    Why is this?

    There’s no simple answer, but there are definitely key factors.

    “Country conditions always can have a big influence over whether you have legitimate grounds for asylum or not,” TRAC co-director Susan B. Long said.

    Another hugely important aspect is whether the asylum seeker has an attorney.

    Nationalities with low denial rates for US asylum


  • 11.1%
  • Ethiopia:
  • 17.0%
  • Syria:
  • 18.5%
  • China:
  • 20.3%
  • Burkina Faso:
  • 21.5%
  • These numbers reflect the rates of denial between FY 2012 and FY 2017.
  • Source: Syracuse University’s TRAC

    “Without representation, the deck is stacked against an asylum seeker,” TRAC said.

    In fact, “your odds are five times better to get asylum if you have an attorney,” Long said.

    Take, for example, China. Between October 2011 and September 2017, applicants from China had the highest number of total US asylum decisions (31,176) – and one of the lowest denial rates (20.3%).

    So it’s no surprise that more than 95% of those Chinese applicants had attorneys.

    Other nationalities with low denial rates include Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria and Burkina Faso. Those asylum seekers had attorney representation in more than 89% percent of cases decided between October 2011 and September 2017.

    But those who show up for crucial interviews with neither an attorney nor English skills often get denied more.

    “A lot don’t have the resources to pay” for an attorney, Long said. “There are a lot of attorneys trying to be of pro bono assistance, but the need is great.”

    Of course, there are many factors US officials weigh when deciding whether to grant someone asylum, such as whether they have proof of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

    But “(t)here are no mandatory bars to establishing a credible fear or persecution or torture,” US Citizenship and Immigration Services says.

    Applying for asylum in the US takes, on average, 6 months and 2 interviews

    Are there any reasons you might be denied for sure?

    Yes. According to the Department of Homeland Security, you may not be granted asylum if:

    • You have persecuted others based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion
    • You have been convicted of a serious crime
    • There are reasons for believing you committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States
    • You have engaged in terrorist activity, are likely to engage in terrorist activity, have incited terrorist activity, or are a member or representative of a terrorist organization
    • There are reasonable grounds to believe that you are a danger to the security of the United States