Andrew Mironov gave up his stable job at an oil company and a future with a doctoral degree in electrical engineering in Russia to move to New York City, jobless.
“In Russia, I would have gotten my Ph.D. this fall, had a job and health insurance,” the 25-year-old told ABC News. “Now, here, I’m nobody.”
Mironov gave up his old life because in New York, he doesn’t fear hostility and harassment. In Russia, Mironov constantly worried about his safety after being severely beaten in the lobby of a gay bar in his home city, Samara.
“Which is more important, happiness or success?” he asked. “I would say happiness. I feel no fear here.”
Mironov is not alone in his search for asylum in the United States. Though exact numbers are unclear because the U.S. government agencies that handle asylum applications don’t give details, the Department of Homeland Security shows 969 Russians have applied for asylum in the 2014 fiscal year, a 34 percent increase from 2012.
The anti-gay laws in Russia are a major factor Russians are coming to the United States. In order to be granted asylum, the seeker must prove he or she has a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country.
According to Immigration Equality’s legal director, Aaron Morris, many asylum inquiries have come from gay men in their 20s and 30s who have been targeted by anti-gay attacks.
Applications can take more than six months to process. Applicants are barred from taking paying jobs for the first five months, so supporting themselves becomes a struggle.
Matthew Corso, who helped the DC Center for the LGBT Community create a program to help those looking for asylum, said that Washington D.C. is struggling to find houses for applicants.
“We have no trouble finding them legal representation,” he said. “But trying to find someone willing to give part of their home or money for food or transportation is not easy.”
Russian immigrant Larry Poltavtsev finds the rules for asylum-seekers frustrating.
“It makes no sense because most of our arrivals have advanced degrees and speak good English,” Poltavtsev, who founded the Spectrum Human Rights Alliance in 2011 to help aid Russian asylum-seekers, said. “They’re capable of being productive, paying taxes, but we are not letting them do those things while they’re waiting.”
While waiting for their asylum application to go through, Russian journalist and human-rights activist Andrew Nasonov and his partner, graphic designer Igor Bazilevsky have been living with a gay couple in Washington. In October, they got married.
“We were finally able to say that we are a real family,” Nasonov said. “There are not enough words to describe how wonderful these feelings are. But of course, we are still faced with a lot of difficulties. It was hard to leave our relatives, friends, and parents behind in Russia…We have nothing here, and in many ways are completely dependent on the assistance of the people who surround us.”
Canada, Finland and Israel are also favorable areas by LGBT Russians seeking asylum. Morris said that most of the Russian asylum cases his team has handled have won approval and he commended the Department of Homeland Security for asking Immigration Equality to train its officers on LGBT asylum cases.
“They understand our community is a little different,” he said.
Mironov, who is living in Brooklyn and has been in the U.S. since November 2013 said the non-gay Russian immigrants in New York seem to have an issue with gay immigrants.
“Americans don’t care if you’re gay,” he said. “But the Russians here, they still have a problem with it.”
Mironov was a bartender until his manager started mistreating him, thinking he wouldn’t complain due to his uncertain legal status. Now he is working to start a photography business.
“It’s hard to not be sure about your future,” Mironov said. “In Russia, I’d planned my whole life out.”