Over 11,000 applications for asylum based on LGBT status filed in the US between 2012 and 2017

A new study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates that 11,400 applications for asylum on the basis of LGBT status were filed in the U.S. between 2012 and 2017. Three out of four LGBT asylum seekers were male, and more than half were from the Northern Triangle region of Central America: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

To create this estimate, researchers analyzed Asylum Prescreening System data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to examine the number, percentage, and characteristics of LGBT asylum seekers in the U.S. The agency does not maintain data on all claims filed based on LGBT status but was able to provide information about claims that resulted in fear interviews. Between January 2007 and November 2017, at least 4,385 asylum claims related to LGBT status led to fear interviews with asylum officers.

Credible fear interviews are screenings to determine if noncitizens who have entered the U.S. without valid documentation have a credible fear of persecution or torture if they return to their home country. Reasonable fear interviews are conducted with noncitizens who have previously been deported or have been convicted of an aggravated felony.


LGBT claims represent 1.2% of all credible fear interviews conducted each year and 1.7% of all reasonable fear interviews. However, researchers believe these percentages are likely low due to several factors, including limited data collected on LGBT claims at various stages in the asylum process and the reluctance of some LGBT asylum seekers to disclose information about their sexual orientation and gender identity to immigration agents.

“Homosexuality is illegal in 69 countries and can be punished by death in 11 countries. Even in those countries where same-sex conduct isn’t criminalized, LGBT people face persecution and violence that may cause them to flee their home country and seek refuge in another,” said lead author Ari Shaw, Director of International Programs at the Williams Institute. “More robust data collection and reporting is essential to improve the quality and quantity of information about LGBT asylees in the United States.”

Additional Findings

  • The vast majority of fear claims were deemed credible by asylum officers. Nearly all (98.8%) of the credible fear interviews and 95.9% of reasonable fear interviews resulted in a positive fear determination.
  • 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%).
  • 3% of LGBT asylum claims were heard through credible fear interviews and 11.7% were heard at reasonable fear interviews.
  • 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.

Read the report

March 4, 2021

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