asylum claimThe Basics of Applying for Asylum: 5 Protected Grounds

In the previous post we discussed the issue of persecution in asylum law, including the need to demonstrate demonstrate either past persecution or a fear of future persecution of the applicant was to return to their home country.

Specifically, the persecution faced by the applicant must be “on account of” one or more of the 5 protected grounds which in this case are:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

The 2005 Real ID Act requires that the nexus be a central motivation in the persecution.  The applicant must not only show a clear  nexus between the harm or feared harm suffered, in relation to one or more of the protected grounds, but also that the persecutor perceived the applicant to possess a protected characteristic.

For example, the fact that the persecutor was a member of a particular political entity, or ethnic majority  is not sufficient in  itself to establish persecution on account of political  opinion or race. There must be evidence that the  persecutor is motivated to persecute the applicant  because the applicant possesses (or is believed to  possess) a particular political opinion, or is perceived to be part of a racial minority. 

A common example could be someone who is part of a religious minority in a country in which they are subject to persecution by authorities. There is clear persecution, based on a protected ground, and the persecutor is motivated by a specific protected ground (in this case the religious background of the applicant).

Here is a brief overview of each of the five enumerated grounds.

Race: The term “race” includes “all kinds of ethnic groups that are referred to as ‘races’ in common usage.” (UNHCR Handbook)

Religion: Persecution on account of religion can include the prohibition of public or private worship, membership in a particular religious community, or religious instruction. (UNHCR Handbook) In many cases serious discrimination against a person because of their membership in a particular religious group may also constitute persecution on account of religion.

Nationality: The term “nationlity” includes citizenship or membership in an ethnic or linguistic group and often times overlaps with the concept of “race.” (UNHCR Handbook)

Political Opinion: The applicants actual political opinions or affiliations may serve as the basis for persecution. The applicant should be prepared to elaborate on their political affiliations or opinions. Also,  the “imputed” political opinion of an applicant may also serve as a basis. In this case it may be a political opinion that the applicant does not actually hold, but one that a persecutor believes the applicant has. For example, a child may be persecuted because of his fathers membership in a political organization, despite the child not actually forming that political opinion.

Social Group: A social group is constituted by “persons of a similar background, habit or social status.” (UNHCR Handbook). Generally, it is understood as a group of people who share or are defined by a certain group of characteristics, including age, geographic location, class or ethnic background, gender or sexual orientation.

This is the broadest of the five protected grounds and remains a controversial area in terms of exact definitions. Courts have held that members of a social group must share a “common immutable characteristic.” (Matter of Acosta).  This characteristic is something that the group cannot change, or should not be required to change because it is fundamental to their identity. Courts have also held that this characteristic must be clearly identifiable in society, and that the society views this characteristic as “the other”, or something which is not completely accepted.

Examples for this category include sexual orientation, as well as some gender based claims.

This is general information and is not intended as legal advice. Individuals filing for Asylum should obtain legal assistance from a private attorney or non-profit. If you have any question contact an Asylum Attorney or send Hamid Yazdan Panah an email using the contact form below.