Chinese nationals represented the largest group granted asylum in the United States in 2019, during a year when U.S. immigration courts dealt with a record-number of individuals seeking refuge.
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, immigration judges granted asylum to 3,623 Chinese individuals, reflecting in part a rate of denial that was starkly lower than the average for the year—25 percent compared to 69 percent.
The approvals also reflected some of the new dynamics of the asylum process in a year when the government has developed stricter regulations governing asylum. Although the total number of individuals granted asylum more than doubled from 9,684 in 2014 to 19,831 in 2019, the number of people denied asylum grew at a higher rate over the last five years, from 9,716 in 2014, to 46, 735, TRAC said.
The next largest group receiving asylum last year came from El Salvador (2,419), followed by India (2,006).
Asylum is granted to applicants claiming a reasonable fear of prosecution from their home country government, based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
TRAC did not provide comparative national origin figures of asylum seekers for past years, and it can take between three and four years for a case to move through the asylum process, from initial application to final decision.
There have been questions raised about some of the cases related to Chinese asylum seekers. A 2012 federal investigation into “asylum mills” resulted in the prosecution of 30 immigration lawyers, paralegals and interpreters who allegedly helped Chinese immigrants fraudulently obtain asylum in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens.
The case, dubbed Operation Fiction Writer, involved more than 3,500 immigrants, most of them Chinese, who were granted asylum after allegedly being coached to provide fictitious stories of persecution and submitting false documents.
TRAC noted that its overall figures showed denial rates rose during the initial months of the Trump administration, and began to accelerate in June 2018 after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions established limits restricting the grounds for granting refuge to the flood of refugees from Central America—mostly women and children—fleeing gangs and domestic violence.
Read the full TRAC report and tables here.