The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) achieved a new milestone a few days ago when it released a newly-created training module, “Guidance for Adjudicating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Refugee and Asylum Claims.”
This is the first comprehensive LGBTI training guide that USCIS has provided to its asylum officers, who are responsible for deciding whether thousands of LGBTI asylum seekers are eligible to receive asylum every year. The training module is a result of collaboration between USCIS and Immigration Equality, a national legal aid and advocacy organization whose mission is to advocate and fight for equal immigration benefits for individuals within the LGBTI community.
Individuals may seek asylum in the US by showing that they have been victims of persecution in the past, or that they have a well-founded fear of future persecution in their countries, on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
For asylum purposes, LGBTI claims usually fall under the “particular social group” category. Yet without a heightened awareness of cultural norms, treatment of LGBTI populations, and legal and moral standards in an asylum seeker’s home country, it can be difficult for asylum officers to pinpoint exactly why an LGBTI applicant is afraid of returning to his or her home country.
This training module is aimed at ensuring that asylum officers are able to identify issues specific to LGBTI asylum claims and grant asylum to LGBTI applicants who face persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in their home countries.
While guidance already exists for other types of asylum claims, claims made by LGBTI individuals often involve unique issues. In conducting asylum interviews, asylum officers must be sensitive to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. This training module provides new resources that should be extremely helpful for asylum officers.
For example, it contains “essential LGBTI definitions,” as well as lists of appropriate questions for officers to use during interviews. Specifically defined are terms such as intersex, transgender, and sexual orientation, which may not always be intuitive for asylum officers. Legal definitions pertaining to requirements for asylum petitions are also provided.
The module also includes LGBTI-specific examples of harm which may be evidence of persecution. It is vital for asylum officers to have an understanding of different types of persecution that are particular to LGBTI applicants.
Additionally, the training module extends the possible list of exceptions to the one-year filing deadline imposed on asylum seekers. The exceptions, including recent HIV diagnosis or recent steps to transition from birth gender to corrected gender, often prevent LGBTI asylum seekers from filing their claims within one year of their arrival in the US.
The training module is an important achievement for USCIS. There has been a clear need for additional safeguards to protect LGBTI applicants. This training module has the potential to not only affect interviews, but also to ignite a change in the mindset of asylum officers and the legal community relating to LGBTI applicants. It provides instruction and education to asylum officers, while at the same time shedding light on the difficulties that this group of asylum applicants faces.
In a press release marking this accomplishment, Immigration Equality wrote that this training module “will be a welcome tool for officers, attorneys and applicants who must work together to ensure our country remains a safe haven for those escaping often unspeakable persecution abroad.” If utilized, this resource will offer LGBTI applicants an opportunity equal to any other asylum seeker in making their claim.