With Olympic athletes trying to get in to the UK, and Julian Assange trying to slip out, one might ask "how hard is it to get political asylum these days?" US and EU immigration statistics suggest several hundred thousand people receive visas based on political considerations each year.
Here are the most recent numbers for the European Union, where France gets the most applications for asylum status most years. According to the EU's number crunching service, Eurostat, just over a quarter million people received visas to live in the common market's countries last year, with the largest numbers coming from Afghanistan, Russia, Serbia, Iraq and Somalia, in that order. Applications from former Yugoslav states were up over the previous year, while applications from Zimbabwe, Somalia, Georgia, Iraq and Nigeria were down. A majority were male and under thirty-five, and a lot were kids:
Out of each 20 asylum applicants in the EU-27 in 2010, on average close to 6 were minors, of which 1 was unaccompanied, 10 were young adults aged between 18 and 34 years and the remaining 4 persons were aged 35 and older (see Table 2). An unaccompanied minor is a person below the age of 18 who arrives on the territory of a Member State unaccompanied by an adult responsible for them or a minor who is left unaccompanied after having entered the territory of a Member State. Out of the 71 350 asylum applicants in the EU-27 who were minors in 2010, some 10 700 (excluding the Czech Republic) were unaccompanied.
The US program falls not under the Immigration and Naturalization Service but under the Department of Homeland Security, which releases an "Annual Flow Report" each May. According to the 2012 edition, the US admitted about a fifth as many refugees as the Eurozone last year, 56,384 persons according to the DHS statement, with the leading nationalities being Burma, Bhutan and Iraq.
Of those, 24,988 received asylum, and the rest refugee status (asylum status means you are already in the US and ask to stay; refugee status means you are abroad and hope to arrive. A helpful primer is here.) Among the asylum group, about half were granted what's called "defensive" asylum, which comes from the Justice Department, and means you got caught trying to enter the US without proper papers, but "were found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture by an Asylum Officer."
The somewhat vague grammar of that phrase probably isn't intentional. It may suggest what it's like to wait for a verdict from Justice, under what is apparently called, with admirable but scary directness, the Credible Fear Screening process.