Refugee Protection

Tibet Justice Center’s Asylum and Immigration Project manages a clearinghouse of information and materials for Tibetans and attorneys representing Tibetans in asylum matters. The Project maintains a list of agencies through which Tibetans seeking asylum can obtain legal assistance and possibly secure low cost or pro bono legal representation. The Project also provides sample asylum briefs, client affidavits and specialized information regarding the conditions for Tibetans in Tibet, Nepal and India to attorneys representing Tibetans.

Tibet Justice Center provides expert affidavits on country conditions in Tibet and conditions for Tibetan refugees in India or Nepal. These affidavits can be an important component of the asylum process. If you are interested in finding out more about our affadavits, including what the potential costs might be and how to request one, please click here.

Please be aware that the asylum process is complicated. Persons interested in applying for asylum should attempt to obtain the assistance of an attorney who will be able to prepare and file the application and supporting documents, accompany the applicant to the asylum interview, and prepare and file any necessary appeals. Although many attorneys charge a fee for these services, if an applicant does not have any funds to pay for an attorney, it may be possible to locate pro bono, or free, legal representation.

General Information for Tibetans Seeking Asylum

1) Applying for Asylum in the United States:
Information for Newly Arrived Tibetans, PDF Version pdf [112k]
In Tibetan: tibetan

2) INS: Overview of the United States asylum process
If you have an asylum or other immigration claim pending with INS, you can check the status of your case here.

2) If you are a Tibetan or a friend of a Tibetan who wishes to apply for political asylum in the United States, please click here to contact an organization in your area for low-cost legal representation.

Helping a Tibetan Friend or Relative Come to the United States

Over the past few years, Tibet Justice Center has received an increasing number of requests for information on how to bring a Tibetan friend or relative to the United States to visit or to live. The answers to these questions are often unclear, as entry into the United States is often difficult and sometimes not possible. Below we hope to address some of the most common questions and concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What documents does a Tibetan need to enter the United States?
A Tibetan who does not have legal permanent residency or U.S. citizenship must possess two types of documents to obtain entry into the U.S. for any period of time: a valid passport or entry document and a valid visa issued by the United States. Many Tibetans do not have valid passports because they are not able to obtain a passport from the government of China and do not hold citizenship in any other country. Tibetans living in India sometimes can be issued a document called an Identity Certificate that lets them travel outside of India and return to India. The United States may accept the Identity Certificate in lieu of a passport.

How does a Tibetan obtain a visa?
Visas to enter the United States are issued by the U.S. government. In order to come to the United States to visit, stay for an extended period of time or live permanently, it is necessary to apply and qualify for a visa. There are many different types of visas, but they generally fall within two categories: permanent residence or immigrant visas, which allows the recipient to stay in the United States indefinitely (and eventually obtain a green card, i.e., legal permanent residency); and temporary or non-immigrant visas, each of which are issued for a specific purpose such as study, travel, or employment. If a Tibetan qualifies for a visa, typically, he or she must complete and file an application with a United States consulate office in their country of residence. If the Tibetan is already in the United States but wishes to change or extend his or her visa status, a qualifying application must be submitted with the appropriate office of the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigrant Services (BCIS) in the United States. More information on this process can be obtained at portal/site/uscis.

Can a Tibetan qualify for an immigrant visa?
A Tibetan may qualify for an immigrant visa in very limited circumstances, such as when the Tibetan has an immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, when the Tibetan has an outstanding or extraordinary professional skill or ability, when the Tibetan can fill a job that no U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident wants, or when the Tibetan has been persecuted in his or her home country on the basis of religion, national origin, race, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. To learn more about asylum and other immigrant visas, visit the U.S. government’s website at portal/site/uscis.

Can a Tibetan qualify for a non-immigrant visa?
A Tibetan many qualify for a non-immigrant visa if he or she has a certain level of education or a special skill and has an employer in the United States who is willing to petition on his or her behalf for a non-immigrant visa based on employment. Often, the job offered in the United States must be one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree and the Tibetan must possess the degree. More information about these types of non-immigrant visas can be obtained from the U.S. government’s website at portal/site/uscis.

A Tibetan may qualify for a visitor or tourist visa if he or she can demonstrate that the visit to the United States is temporary (usually less than three months), that the visit is for tourist reasons (such as to visit a friend, see the country, etc.), that the Tibetan has ties to his or her country of residence and intends to return there, and that he or she has means of support while in the United States.

I am a U.S. citizen (or legal permanent resident). How can I help my Tibetan friend visit the United States?
If your friend otherwise qualifies for a tourist visa, you may provide a letter of invitation or support to accompany your friend’s application for a tourist visa. Typically, this letter is directed to the government office or consulate which will process the visa application and includes statements of invitation and/or a willingness to provide housing or financial support during the Tibetan’s stay. It is also helpful to convey, if you know, the temporary nature of your friend’s visit, and your friend’s ties to her/his country of residence and intention to return there to live.

My Tibetan friend just received a tourist visa to come to the United States. The visa states that it is valid for one year. Can she stay in the United States for one year?
No. Tourist visas are often issued for a period of a year or more. But the visa indicates the period during which a person may request entry into the United States, not how long he can stay. The legal length of stay is determined by immigration authorities upon arrival to the United States. Each person entering on a visa is issued a white I-94 card. Typically this card is stapled to the passport. It contains the type of visa and the date by which the person must leave the United States. Tourists are routinely admitted for 90 days. The white I-94 card must be turned back in when the person departs the U.S. It may be possible to apply for an extension to stay beyond the exit date stamped on the I-94. Any such application must be filed before the I-94 expiration date.

My Tibetan friend lives in Nepal or India. Can he still come to the United States to visit?
A Tibetan is not disqualified from obtaining a visa just because he or she lives in Nepal or India. However, Tibetans living in these countries often cannot obtain a visa to come to the United States because (1) they do have, and cannot get, valid passports; and (2) even if they have a valid passport, the United States is reluctant to issue a visa because they presume that Tibetans are coming to the United States to live permanently rather than just to visit. Tibetans can overcome this presumption by demonstrating that they have strong ties to their country of residence and intend to return there.

How can I help my Tibetan friend currently in the United States who would like to seek asylum in the U.S.?
First and foremost, if you know someone who is thinking about applying for asylum, they should be aware that there is a one-year filing deadline. That means that they must submit their application for asylum within one year of their entry into the United States. To learn more about the asylum process, see portal/site/uscis.

What happens when the Tibetan arrives in the United States with a valid passport and visa?
Neither a passport nor a visa guarantee entry into the United States. Immigration authorities at the point of entry generally have the authority to deny admission and to determine the period for which the bearer of a non-immigrant visa is authorized to remain in the United States. At the point of entry, an immigration official authorizes a traveler’s admission to the United States by completing the I-94 card (Record of Arrival-Departure), which notes the length of stay permitted. Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the BCIS to request an extension. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the BCIS.

Resources for Asylum Attorneys


Please be advised that Tibet Justice Center has not verified the information contained in the materials listed below. Therefore, the materials should be used solely as a guide to assist attorneys in filing asylum petitions or applications on behalf of Tibetans. Any factual statements contained within the materials should be independently verified before use. Moreover, because immigration and asylum law changes rapidly and may be applied differently depending on an applicant’s particular circumstances, all of the legal representations and assertions should be independently verified and researched before use.

The materials contained herein do not constitute legal advice. They should not be used as a substitute for legal research or legal consultation. For specific assistance with an individual immigration or asylum matter on behalf of a Tibetan, please contact the Asylum and Immigration Project.

Reports on Tibet’s Stateless Nationals:

Sample Briefs and Affidavits
Below are materials to assist attorneys in preparing Tibetan asylum petitions. Among these materials are redacted models of successful applications and memoranda on behalf of Tibetans seeking asylum. These were provided by attorneys with whom Tibet Justice Center has worked.


Brief #1: March 2010 Successful Application for Asylum: “The Court finds that Respondent has demonstrated that he has suffered past persecution… and that the DHS failed to rebut the regulatory presumption of a well-founded fear of future persecution. Respondent has therefore established his statutory eligibility for asylum. He also merits a favorable exercise of discretion….” PDF Version  [1825k]

Brief #2: Concerns a woman who was born and lived most of her life in Tibet. She passed briefly through Nepal on her journey to the United States. MS Word version [205k] PDF Version  [221k]

Brief #3: This is a brief for a Buddhist nun. She did not pass through any third country. MS Word version [133k] PDF Version [220k]

Brief #4: Concerns a Buddhist monk who was born and lived most of his life in Tibet. He passed several months in Nepal before coming tho the United States. MS Word Version [126k] PDF Version  [233k]

Brief #5: A Brief for a Buddhist monk who fled persecution in Tibet, passed through Nepal, and lived almost five years in India before traveling to the United States. MS Word Version [100k] PDF Version [198k]

Brief #6: This case examines whether an applicant can establish his or her Chinese nationality without being able to produce identification issued by the Chinese government. PDF Version  [15mb]

Evidentiary Support for Affidavits

File #1: Social and Demographic Study of Tibetan Refugees in India 
PDF Version [671k]

This study describes the social and demographic characteristics of roughly 65,000 Tibetan refugees in India from the period of 1994-1996. Overall, the socio-demographic and health characteristics of this population show signs of transition from those of least developed countries to those of middle income societies. However, many in this population still lack access to adequate health resources and social services.

File #2: The New Tibetan Refugees 
PDF Version [216k]

This report highlights circumstances under which Tibetans refugees immigrate to India. It outlines the types of refugees that arrive in India. This document also lists the social services refugees receive upon arrival from the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

File #3: Unclassified State Department Wires on the Legal Status of Tibetan Refugees in India and Nepal
PDF Version [158k]
This PDF contains two different sets of communications – one between the US Department of State and the American embassy in New Delhi, India and the other between the US Department of State and the American embassy in Katmandu, Nepal. Both communications concern immigration issues and the legal status of Tibetans. Passports, citizenship, and travel visas are the main topics discussed in these communications.

File #4: The Legal Condition of Refugees in India 
PDF Version [1.67mb]

This report discusses the legal rights of refugees, including Tibetans, in India. Legal status, citizenship, resettlement, employment, education, and other rights are discussed in this essay. In this discussion it is established that Tibetan are not accorded the rights and freedoms equal to those of Indian citizens.

File #5: Government’s Submission of Evidence on Tibetan Asylum Case 
PDF Version [888k]

This brief was filed by William Vela, Attorney at Law, with the San Francisco Immigration Court to help clarify the issue of Indian citizenship for Tibetan refugees. This brief establishes that Tibetan refugees are not accorded the same rights and privileges as citizens of India. They are classified by law as foreigners and thereby face substantial restrictions.

File #6: Department of Justice: Collection of evidence files on Tibetan asylum claims 
PDF Version [848k]

This document contains a memo from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regarding Tibetan refugees in Nepal and Tibet and additional files supporting the claims made by the UNHCR in the memo. This memo and supporting documents cover the issues of citizenship, civil and political rights, and the status of refugees in these states. This memo and supporting documents also discuss how Nepal and India are not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the ramifications for Tibetan refugees in these countries.

File #7: 911 Tibetan Refugees in Nepal: From Established Settlements to Forcible Repatriation
PDF Version [279k]
This document provides summary of the conditions faced by Tibetan refugees in Nepal. This report covers the processing of Tibetan refugees, the repatriation and mistreatment of new refugees by Nepali border guards and police, and Nepal’s obligation to refugees under international law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is mentioned briefly for its role in processing Tibetan refugees, including its role in assisting refugees in their transit to India. This document also discusses the relationship between the Nepali Government and the People’s Republic of China.

File #8: Tibetan Refugees in Nepal 
PDF Version [495k]
This document provides an estimate of the number of Tibetans living in Nepal and describes the conditions faced by refugees in Nepal. This file includes maps of Nepal and surrounding countries and regions, as well as a chart listing the institutions Tibetan refugees were sent to after arrival (e.g. monasteries, schools, etc).

File #9: Mamadou Diallo v John D. Ashcroft; US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
PDF Version [604k]
This is a copy of a case submitted by Mamadou Diallo regarding the issue of “firm resettlement” in a country which an individual does not hold citizenship. Diallo is a Mauritanian citizen who resided in Senegal prior to moving to the United States, where he is seeking asylum. This document establishes guidelines for what constitutes as “firm resettlement” in a country which an individual does not hold citizenship. It also explains what roles fear of persecution and torture should play in granting an individual asylum into the United States.

File #10: The Indian Citizenship Act, 1955
PDF Version [195k]
This document lists the guidelines for obtaining citizenship in India under the Citizenship Act of 1955 (which was later amended in 1986 and 1992). To obtain citizenship, an individual must either be born in Indian or fall under the regulations listed for a non-citizens to obtain citizenship.

File #11: Dangerous Crossing: Conditions Impacting the Flight of Tibetan Refugees
PDF Version [195k]
Documents recent conditions for Tibetan refugees who undertake the life-threatening crossing over the Himalaya and into exile in Nepal and India.