Can people from the former Soviet Union apply for asylum?
The short answer is yes – people from the former Soviet Union can apply for asylum.
When we say former Soviet Union, we are referring to the countries that are today Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Turkmenistan, and Moldova.
Of course, every case is unique, and every country in the former Soviet Union has different circumstances. But in every country that once was a part of the Soviet Union, there are issues which could lead to someone applying for asylum.
What makes someone eligible for asylum?
An applicant for asylum is a person who has suffered past persecution or who fears future persecution because of their race, religion, political opinion, nationality, sexual orientation, or membership in a social group.
What kind of asylum cases from the former Soviet Union can you give as examples?
The legal team at Lightman Law Firm has covered a full spectrum of asylum cases. We have done, among other things, religion conversion cases from Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan), political party cases from Kyrgystan and Belarus, and LGBT asylum cases from Russia. And these are just a few examples. The team has also done gender related cases (such as bride kidnapping) from Kyrgyzstan, but this is an area of the law that is currently in flux.
These are just examples. The immigration lawyers at Lightman Law Firm are constantly keeping updated about the human rights situation in the world and the laws of asylum, and can help you if you fear returning to your country because of harm you have suffered or harm that you feel you will suffer.
Can you explain the difference between past persecution and a well-founded fear of future persecution?
This is a great question. Past persecution is harm that has already been suffered by the applicant. Well-founded fear of future persecution means that the applicant has a fear, based on reason and objective reality, that s/he will suffer harm in the future. Sometimes, applicants have both past persecution and well-founded future fear of persecution.
It is important to also note that the past harm of future harm that is feared must be on account of or because of one of the listed categories (race, religion, nationality, political, social group). This means that the harm you suffered (or fear that you will suffer) has to be because of your religion, or your social group, or your nationality, or your political views, or your race. This is a very key point. In asylum law, this is called the “nexus” requirement.
To illustrate: if you are from Kyrgyzstan, and you converted to Christianity, but you were harmed in an armed carjacking that had nothing to do with your conversion to Christianity, you have not met the nexus requirement. You are a Christian convert, and you were harmed, but the harm was not because of your conversion to Christianity.
This seems like an obvious point, but some of the countries in the former USSR have a lot of general crime, or there may be a conflict going on, so it is not always easy to prove what the motive of the attacker was. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced and competent asylum lawyer who can analyze your case carefully.
How does one prove that the abuse was because of the protected category?
This is a very important question, and each case has its own nuances. It’s a very fact-specific analysis.
Some of the things the authorities may look at: what did the attacker or attackers say to you while they were attacking? Did they know that you were part of the political opposition or that you converted to another religion? Where did the attack occur? Were others of your same group also attacked, harmed, or threatened by the same people?
Obviously, the analysis will be slightly different if the harm occurred at the hands of government actors versus private actors.
So an applicant can get asylum even if the violence is not directly at the hands of the State?
Yes! The asylum law states that an individual can receive asylum due to past persecution or well-founded fear of future persecution, even if the persecution is (or will be) at the hands of non-state actors, as long as s/he can show that the Government is unwilling or unable to protect their safety.
For example, with LGBT asylum cases from Russia, there is demonization of the LGBT community, which leads to private individuals or gangs persecuting LGBT people. Because the Government demonizes LGBT people, it is very clear that the Government is not only unwilling to help LGBT people, but also seems to want the violence / mistreatment that they are suffering.
The same thing can happen with other categories that are relevant in former Soviet states. Because the states have their political leaning, they will look the other way or refuse to help people who are mistreated because of their political dissent.
What about people who are saying say they were harmed just so they can apply for asylum?
Deliberately making up a fraudulent claim for asylum is one of the worst things a person seeking to remain in the United States can do.
If a person did not suffer past harm, or does not actually fear harm, or if they make up a story about a political involvement or group they belong to, just to apply for asylum, they are deliberately fabricating an asylum claim. Plain and simple.
If an Immigration Judge finds that you deliberately fabricated your asylum story, he or she will make what is called a “frivolous finding” against you. It should be noted that just because your case is denied that does not mean that the Judge will automatically make a frivolous finding against you. A frivolous finding is made if the Judge finds that you purposely and deliberately made up your case.
If the Immigration Judge makes a frivolous finding against you, and no appeal is granted on this finding, then the frivolous finding is final, and you will be barred from virtually all benefits under U.S. immigration laws. This means that you will not be able to get status in the United States, even through family-based or employment-based immigration, temporary visas, the diversity lottery, etc.
There are two very minor exceptions to this rule, namely withholding of removal and protection under Article III of the Convention against Torture. These two forms of relief are not barred by a frivolous finding. But all other forms of immigration benefits are permanently closed off to anyone who deliberately fabricates an asylum claim. So it is probably one of the worst choices an immigrant trying to stay in the United States can make!
Does anyone at your firm speak Russian?
Mr. Guy Menahem, the immigration lawyer at our firm who focuses on the asylum cases, is multi-lingual, and is conversant in Russian. He has practiced in the asylum field his entire career, and has done asylum cases for people from many former Soviet states.
Мы говорим по-русски и мы будем рады вам помочь!
To schedule a consultation with Lightman Law Firm, please call us at (212) 643-0985.