Many people are aware of immigration terms like political asylum and political refugee. However, some people might not know that you can also obtain asylum or refugee status based on religious persecution. 

The concept behind religious asylum is very similar to that of political asylum. Basically, a foreign national can apply for various protections in the U.S. if they have experienced religious persecution in their home country. “Religious persecution” can include:

  • Victimization due to religiously-motivated violence (resulting in bodily harm or suffering)
  • Unjust imprisonment for religious beliefs
  • Inhumane treatment such as degradation, slaver, or torture based on religious belief
  • Human rights violations

Religious refugees may apply for entrance into the U.S. to receive protection from such actions. Sometimes, they may apply for certain benefits such as financial assistance and relocation counseling.

Who May Be Considered for Immigration Based on Religious Persecution?

The most important requirement is that the person needs to have a "well-founded fear" of persecution based on their religious beliefs. This means that the fear persecution is not invented or imagined, and that a reasonable person would have similar fears if placed in the same situation.

In addition, the person does not actually have to belong to the religion for which they are being persecuted. For example, if a person is mistakenly believed to belong to a certain religion, and is then persecuted due to their misidentification with the group, they might be considered for refugee status even if they did not actually hold those religious beliefs.

During a crisis in a country, an alternative to asylum is "Temporary Protected Status." Temporary Protected Status generally involves turbulent conditions in the person’s home country.

What Else Should I Know About Religious Asylum Under Immigration Laws?

There have been several cases in the past involving fraudulent applications for religious refugee and asylum. In such cases, the applicants did not actually experience persecution, and were simply "coached" by others to recite facts or statements to immigration authorities. This is fraud, and can lead to various consequences including removal or deportation, as well as the denial of the application.

Also, it’s important to recognize the distinction between asylum and refugee status. Asylum is granted to persons who are already within the U.S. borders, sometimes illegally. In contrast, refugee status is granted to persons who have not yet entered the U.S. and are still in the process of fleeing the persecution.

In general, priority is given to refugee applications as opposed to asylum applications, especially when it comes to yearly immigration quotas.

Do I Need an Immigration Lawyer?

Religious persecution can present some serious challenges for a person and their family. If you or a loved one needs assistance with religious immigration and immigration issues, you should contact an immigration lawyer immediately. Your attorney can assist you in an application for refugee status. Also, if you need to make an appearance before an immigration judge or panel, your attorney can provide representation and legal guidance.