If you’ve been following the news in the last few years you’ve likely heard that the situation for gays and lesbians in Russia has deteriorated significantly. Gay and Lesbian Russians need your help. Anti-gay laws, homophobic protests and anti-gay attacks have increased. For many, it is no longer safe to be gay man or woman in Russia. Fortunately, the United States government may be willing to help gay Russians currently in the U.S. on visitor, student or work visas, including those who have overstayed their visas. The U.S. may grant asylum to those individuals who have either been persecuted in their home country by their government, people the government is unable or unwilling to control on account of their sexual orientation.
The following are 6 ways that you can help your Russian LGBT friends obtain asylum in the U.S.
1. MAKE GENUINE FRIENDSHIPS
If you meet a gay or lesbian individual from Russia or any other country for that matter, show them some U.S. hospitality. It can be difficult being in a new country with a completely different language and culture. Befriend a Russian. Learn about their culture and share your own. Find out what you have in common. If you’ve met at a gay bar or through an LGBT organization, you already have a starting point!
2. ASK QUESTIONS BUT DON’T INTERROGATE
Your friend may not be willing to provide you with all the details of their lives, and unless you’re great friends or in a relationship, it’s probably none of your business. However, individuals who have suffered persecution in Russia or have a fear of returning because they may be persecuted might not be comfortable discussing it as it may be to personal or traumatic. In some cases, they may only have straight Russian friends in the U.S. and prefer to keep their sexuality hidden. When you have a good relationship with your friend, ask questions but don’t interrogate. Talk about what you’ve heard in the news and let them tell you if they are having problems at home or are afraid to return because of their sexual-orientation. Your Russian friend may already be a U.S. Citizen or have a green card but those on temporary visas may need asylum if they fear returning when their stay ends.
3. INFORM THEM ABOUT THE ASYLUM OPTION
Many foreigners and U.S. Citizens alike are unaware about LGBT asylum. Your friend may not know that the U.S. will allow gay and lesbians to seek asylum in the U.S. Let your friends know that there is a possibility for those who fear persecution because of their sexuality to remain permanently in the U.S. Being informed about the asylum option is particularly important as, generally, asylum must be applied for within one year of entry into the U.S.
4. CONNECT THEM TO A NON-PROFIT OR PRIVATE IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
Asylum law is complicated and each case is unique. It is generally not a good idea to attempt to apply for asylum without first speaking with an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can help your friend decide whether or not they want to apply for asylum and also whether or not they are eligible for LGBT asylum. They will prepare a strong application packet which may need to be hundreds of pages. They will also prepare for and attend an asylum interview with the client or represent them at an asylum trial if the friend is in deportation proceedings. The not for profit organization Immigration Equality helps connect asylum seekers with pro-bono and private immigration attorneys with experience in LGBT asylum law.
5. SUPPORT THEIR ASYLUM CASE WITH WRITTEN STATEMENTS OR IN PERSON TESTIMONY
If your friend is applying for asylum, they will need to prove to the U.S. government that they have suffered persecution or have a reasonable fear of future persecution on account of their sexual orientation. Written statements from friends who can attest that the individual is actually gay will be helpful to their case. An immigration attorney will likely ask their clients’ friends to provide affidavits and guide them as to what is necessary. If your friend is seeking asylum in court, it may be necessary for a friend to testify in person.
6. IF POSSIBLE, SUPPORT THEM FINANCIALLY OR PROVIDE FOOD AND SHELTER
The asylum process can be long, sometimes more than one year. After an asylum application has been pending for 5 months, the asylum seeker may be eligible to apply for a work permit, however before this time, unless they have a work visa, asylum seekers are not permitted to work. They might need help with basic needs in the U.S including help with food and shelter. Emotional support can be just as helpful.
If your friend is fortunate to receive asylum, they will be allowed to remain live and work in the U.S. After one year, they will be eligible to apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence). After four more years they may be eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.