What Does the Term, “Particular Social Group,” Mean for Asylum?

In the United States, asylum seekers must meet the definition of a “refugee.” A refugee is a person who has suffered persecution or fears future persecution because of one of 5 grounds:

  1. Your race
  2. Your religion
  3. Your nationality
  4. Your membership in a particular social group 
  5. Your political opinion

Of all the grounds for asylum seekers, the particular social group category is the most difficult to define. Different immigration judges interpret the term, “particular social group,” differently – and particular social group cases often lead to in-depth legal arguments.

Interpretations of the Particular Social Group

Generally, a particular social group is a group of people the government or individuals whom the government cannot control, can identify, and see as a threat. The group shares a common characteristic that they cannot or should not be expected to change. For example, gender or family ties could be a characteristic of a particular social group . If the government or related individuals is going after everyone with a particular characteristic, these people may want to seek asylum in the United States.

Common characteristics can also be shared experiences. The government may target people who owned property or served in the military during a previous regime or be after former gang members. Overall, think of a particular social group as a group of people who have similar backgrounds, social classes, family histories, experiences, or habits.

Particular Social Groups That Have Successfully Sought Asylum in the United States

Historically, the United States has recognized and welcomed many different particular social groups. Most commonly, the U.S. offers asylum to:

  • Tribes and ethnic groups
  • Social classes (especially educated elites)
  • Dissidents and their family members
  • Members of persecuted occupations
  • LGBTQ individuals
  • Child soldiers
  • Members or former members of the military
  • Police officers
  • Powerful people who may be targeted for assassination

More recently, the U.S. has begun to recognize women from certain places as members of a particular social group and offer asylum based on gender. Some women, for instance, can gain asylum in the United States if they have undergone or fear they will be forced to undergo harmful cultural practices, including genital mutilation, forced marriage, or restrictive dress code requirements.

Recognizable Particular Social Groups

To be recognized as a particular social group, the group must be perceived as unique and identifiable. Being rich, poor, or even a victim of violence is not enough to define a particular social group because others in your home country may not be able to recognize you as a member of that group. On the other hand, all the members of a particular tribal group may be recognizable because they appear distinct, adhere to certain cultural practices, wear certain clothing, or have certain religious symbols at home.

Particular Social Groups by Country

Every country has a different culture, body of laws, and standards for enforcement. If a group of people is at risk, and the government of their home country does nothing to help them, they may be able to form a particular social group. Conversely, a group of people who can achieve justice within their home country would not be.

To illustrate the changes in the law: consider the case of women in abusive marriages in El Salvador who cannot leave their relationships, and who the police will not help. In the past, victims of domestic violence from El Salvador formed a particular social group However, recently, due to the Trump administration, protection extended to these domestic violence victims have been eroded. [hyperlink: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1070866/download ] Similarly, women who suffer abuse in Canada or France could not form a particular social group  because they can leave their marriages, call the police on their abusers, and seek assistance within their home country.

Creating New Arguments

To create or be granted asylum under a particular social group you must have a strong legal team that can define your group and explain why you need asylum in the United States. At The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC, we are confident in our ability to help you.

Because the particular social group category is not well-defined, the outcome of your case will depend largely on your attorney, your asylum officer, and the judge that handles your legal proceedings.

Don’t trust your future to just anyone. Instead, see what we can do for you during a free consultation – call us at (917) 451-5173 or contact us online to schedule yours today.


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