Shaw et al., ‘LGBT Asylum Claims in the United States’, 2021

Subject Area

Sexual Orientation/Sexuality
Gender Identity






Americas | Other

Year Published



Ari Shaw, Winston Luhur, Ingrid Eagly and Kerith J. Conron, ‘LGBT Asylum Claims in the United States’, UCLA, March 2021

Executive Summary

LGBT people face both generalized and unique vulnerabilities that cause many to leave their country of origin and seek refuge in another. Consensual same-sex conduct remains criminalized in 69 countries, and as many as 11 countries could impose the death penalty if convicted. Research shows that many LGBT people face persecution and violence, including domestic violence, rape, and murder, as well as discrimination in areas like education, employment, housing, and healthcare.

Little information exists about the number and characteristics of LGBT asylum seekers in the United States. Using Asylum Prescreening System data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), this report aims to fill these gaps. Our analysis relies upon fear interviews conducted by USCIS between January 3, 2007 and November 17, 2017 and coded as related to sexual orientation or gender identity (“LGBT status”).

Key Findings

Using data about fear claims made through the defensive process, we estimate that 11,400 applications for asylum were filed in the United States on the basis of LGBT status between FY 2012 to 2017.

Between 2007 and 2017, at least 4,385 fear claims that led to interviews by asylum officers were coded as related to LGBT status.
We estimate that 1.2% of all credible fear interviews conducted each year between FY 2008- 2017 were related to LGBT status, while 1.7% of all reasonable fear interviews conducted between FY 2012-2017 were related to LGBT status.
Almost all interviews involving LGBT claims resulted in positive determinations of fear (98.4%), with most (96.3%) receiving positive determinations for fear of persecution and some meeting requirements for fear of torture (0.8%) or fear of both persecution and torture (1.3%).
Over three-fourths of asylum seekers with LGBT claims were male (73.7% of credible fear interviews and 81.7% reasonable fear interviews).
While claimants originated from 84 countries, over half (51.3%) were from the Northern Triangle region of Central America: El Salvador (28.0%), Honduras (14.9%), and Guatemala (8.4%). Significant proportions also were from Mexico (12.1%) and Ghana (7.8%).
88.3% of LGBT asylum claims were heard through credible fear interviews, which are conducted at ports of entry or if a migrant is apprehended after crossing the border. The remaining 11.7% were heard at reasonable fear interviews, which are conducted when migrants are subjected to reinstatement of a prior removal order.
A large number of LGBT fear interviews (2,000) occurred in 2016 and 2017, proportional to an overall increase in defensive asylum claims during those years.
This report illustrates the value of Asylum Prescreening System data for understanding the number and characteristics of LGBT asylum seekers in the United States. At the same time, it highlights critical gaps in data systems and underscores the need for more robust data collection and reporting about both LGBT and non-LGBT asylum seekers.