Much has been written about the inconsistent and unpredictable decision-making at our nation's Asylum Offices and Immigration Courts. And while it is true that the officer or judge who decides the case makes a difference, for most asylum applicants, the strength of the case is the determinant factor. Here, we'll look at some common reasons why asylum cases get denied, and we'll explore what can be done to improve your chances for a successful outcome.

One Year Bar: To be eligible for asylum, you must file your case within one year of arriving in the United States. There are exceptions to this rule, but data from the Asylum Offices show that people who file on time are nearly twice as likely to win their cases, as compared to people who file after one year in the country (the problem may not be as bad in Immigration Court, but certainly, timely filing improves the odds there as well). The easy answer here: File your I-589 form during your first year in the U.S.

If you are not able to file on time, don't ignore this issue. You may be able to overcome the one-year bar by providing evidence that you meet an exception to the rule. Common exceptions include: You have been in lawful non-immigrant status since you arrived in the country; you were/are under 18 years old; you have a physical or mental disability that prevented you from filing on time; circumstances changed such that you now have a fear of returning to your country. I previously wrote in more detail about these exceptions, but the main point is this--if you have not filed within one year of your arrival in the U.S., make sure to explain (with evidence) why you qualify for an exception to the timely-filing rule, and even if you are already late, it is best to file as soon as possible.

Credibility: Another common reason that asylum cases are denied is credibility. Obviously, if the fact-finder believes you are lying, it will be more difficult to win your case. What causes a decision-maker to conclude that an applicant is not credible? One issue is consistency. If your affidavit states that you lived in a red house, but your witness letter states that you lived in a blue house, something is wrong. Such an inconsistency can cause the judge or Asylum Officer to conclude that you are lying. The solution here is to review all your documents and witness letters to be sure that dates and events are consistent. I like to have the applicant's affidavit reflect all the major events in the story, and then I can compare each piece of evidence to the affidavit to help ensure that everything matches up.

Also, remember that the U.S. government may already have significant information about you--from your visa application and prior applications (including asylum applications) with the government, from any credible or reasonable fear interview at the border, from family members' immigration applications or cases, from social media or other on-line sources, and from its own (and potentially other countries') data bases. You should do your best to gather as much information as you can (for example, through a Freedom of Information Act request with USCIS and/or EOIR) so you can ensure that your current case is consistent with information the government already knows about you.

It is also important to review your case prior to any hearing. Your testimony should be consistent with your written statement and documents. The same goes for your witnesses. At the hearing, if you don't understand a question, say that you do not understand. If you do not know the answer or do not remember, say that you don't know or don't remember--Don't guess! if you or your witness guess wrong, the fact-finder might conclude that you are not credible.

Nexus: Just because you face harm in your home country does not mean that you will qualify for asylum. To win asylum, you must demonstrate that the persecutor will harm you on account of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group (PSG). Meaning that when you present your asylum case, you need to explain (hopefully with evidence) why you face harm on account of a protected ground. If your fear of harm is based on PSG, you need to define exactly what that means. PSGs can include gender, sexual orientation, family or clan membership, occupation or a host of other characteristics. Whether a particular PSG is "cognizable" (i.e., acceptable as a basis for an asylum claim) can be a complicated analysis and different decision-makers frequently come to different conclusions about the same PSG. In any event, it is important to make clear the "nexus" or connection between the feared harm and the protected category (or categories). Failure to do so can lead to a denial, even where a person faces harm in the home country.

Persecution: Aside from showing that you will face harm on account of a protected ground, you also have to show that the harm you face rises to the level of "persecution." In other words, the feared harm has to be pretty serious. Unfortunately (and as usual), what that actually means is not clear. Indeed, different decision-makers have reached very different conclusions about what level of harm constitutes "persecution." For purposes of this discussion, though, you want to provide details and evidence about any threats or harm that you suffered or might suffer, and you want to show that the harm is severe, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Also, harm is viewed cumulatively, so that if you faced several smaller harms (threats, low level violence, short detentions), perhaps combined together they would qualify as persecution. If your family members were threatened or harmed, that is also relevant to the persecution analysis, and so you should provide evidence about any such incidents.

Other Reasons Why Asylum Is Denied: A few other common issues are worth mentioning. If you have been arrested or accused of a crime, that could be a bar to receiving asylum. If you assisted terrorists, even against your will or under duress, that could block you from asylum (this includes paying money at a checkpoint to terrorists or rebels). If you lived in a third country or had an offer from a third country to reside there permanently, that could constitute firm resettlement, which is another bar to asylum. If you think any of these bars may apply, you would be well-advised to talk to a lawyer.

There are many reasons why asylum applications are denied, and the ones listed above are only a few of the most common. Applicants (and their attorneys) who think about these issues in advance and prepare their cases accordingly are more likely to avoid the pitfalls and receive asylum.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: