Status of Persons Who Emigrate for Economic Reasons Under the Refugee Act of 1980

Headnotes: 

Under the Refugee Act of 1980, a “refugee” is defined as a victim of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; economic hardship by itself is not a basis for eligibility as a refugee under the Act.

Refugee status under the Refugee Act of 1980 should normally be considered on an individual basis. While the Immigration and Naturalization Service may apply commonly known circumstances to people falling within particular groups without requiring the facts necessary to determine eligiblity to be proved individually in each and every case, group determinations should generally be reserved for situations in which the need to provide assistance is extremely urgent and political reasons preclude an individual determination of status.

Fear of prosecution for departing a country in violation of its travel laws is not sufficient to entitle an individual to refugee status, unless it can be shown that such prosecution would be motivated by one o f the proscribed reasons. If the country treats departure as a political act and punishes that act in a harsh and oppressive manner, such circumstances would qualify as “persecution on account of . . . political opinion” under the Act.

Updated July 9, 2014