What is a Particular Social Group?
The definition of “particular social group” is ever-changing, and is primarily established through case law.
To qualify for asylum or refugee status, you must demonstrate that you have suffered past persecution, or fear that you will suffer future persecution, on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. But what does it mean to be a member of a particular social group?
The definition of “particular social group” is ever-changing, and is primarily established through case law. Membership in a particular social group may also overlap with other protected grounds, such as political opinion, but it is important to keep in mind that membership in a particular social group is its own unique protected ground. To seek asylum or refugee status based on membership in a particular social group, you must establish that the group is:
- Composed of members who share a common, immutable characteristic;
- Defined with particularity; and
- Socially distinct within the society in question.
- What is a common, immutable characteristic?
An immutable characteristic is one that you cannot change or should not be required to change, because it is essential to your identity. The characteristic could be a biological trait, a system of belief, or a social status. This common characteristic should be one that distinguishes you in the eyes of others.
Particular social groups have been successfully based on ethnicity, skin color, clan or tribal membership, gender identity, sexual orientation, witness to criminal activity, encounters with domestic violence, family relationships, and membership in the police force or military, among others.
- What does it mean to be defined with particularity?
The characteristic defining your group must provide a clear benchmark for determining who is part of the group and who is not. There are no maximum or minimum limits to the size of a particular social group. However, the size of your proposed social group is relevant to assessing whether your group is too vague to create a benchmark for determining group membership. Essentially, the “particularity” requirement makes sure your proposed group has definable boundaries.
- What does it mean for the group to be socially distinct?
Your group’s shared characteristic(s) must be perceived as distinct within your society. A particular social group should be defined from the perspective of the society in question, not from the perception of the persecutor. This requires showing that society sets you and others who possess the same immutable characteristics apart or differentiates between people who possess the shared belief or trait and people who do not. This can be shown through evidence such as background country condition reports, witness testimony, and press accounts.
Asylum based on membership in a particular social group is often the most difficult to pursue, because of the nebulous nature of the category. It is also important to note that it is not a “catch all” category if you cannot establish eligibility for asylum or refugee status on account of your race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. If you believe you were subjected to persecution, or fear future persecution, based on your membership in a particular social group, please consult an experienced immigration attorney to determine if pursuing an asylum or refugee status is the right option for you.
Do you still have questions about membership in particular social groups? Our team of experienced immigration attorneys is happy to answer your questions.