Asylum seekers arrive each year in the U.S. seeking protection due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. People who are eligible for asylum may be permitted to stay in the U.S.
You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status. To file for asylum, you’ll have to be physically present in the U.S. and fill out Form I-589, the Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. In this guide, we focus on the interview process and what you can expect.
Who can file for asylum?
You may apply for asylum if you are not a United States citizen and are physically present in the country. You can file Form I-589 in two scenarios:
Affirmative asylum, meaning that you have not been placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge
Defensive asylum, meaning that you are in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge
Generally speaking, you can usually apply for asylum if:
You are legally in the U.S.
You have not been previously denied asylum in the U.S.
You have not been convicted of a crime
What is an asylum interview?
When you apply for asylum affirmatively (meaning that you have not been placed in removal proceedings before an Immigration Judge), you will receive a Notice to Appear for your interview with an Asylum Officer at your local asylum office within 21 days of submitting your asylum application. During this interview, the Asylum Officer (“AO”) will try to test your credibility and your legal claim to asylum.
What to take with you
Bring original versions of all documents you previously submitted in your initial application such as travel records, medical records, affidavits, passport(s) or any other identification documents. You should also bring any additional items that document the validity of your claim and that you have not already submitted with your application. If any of the original documents are not in English, provide a certified translated copy along with the original documents.
Who may attend the interview?
If you included your husband, wife, or any children that are under the age of 21 on your application for asylum, they should attend the interview with you and bring original versions of all documents that were originally submitted in your asylum application, including documents that establish identity documents, travel documents and any other materials demonstrating their relationship with you.
In some cases, younger children may only be required to appear during the interview for purposes of identification and can then be allowed to leave the office or return to the waiting room for the duration of the interview.
Other individuals that may be allowed to accompany you during the interview, apart from your spouse and children, are witnesses, an interpreter, and legal counsel, if necessary. If you wish to have an interpreter and/or lawyer with you, these parties may not act as witnesses.
Will an interpreter be provided?
If you cannot conduct the interview in English, bring your own interpreter as the asylum office does not typically supply these services. Any individual over the age of 18, has a firm understanding of the English language, is not a witness or legal counsel to your case, may serve as an interpreter.
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What to expect during an asylum interview
Procedure varies slightly between different asylum offices. In some branches, applicants may be required to walk through a metal detector before entering the waiting room. There may be a receptionist who will request for your fingerprints and assign you a number, which will be called when it’s time for your interview. In some cases, you may request an officer of a specific gender for the interview although there’s no guarantee that this request can be entertained.
Once you have checked-in with the receptionist and presented any new or supporting documents, you will be asked to stay in a waiting area. The length of time you may have to wait varies and usually depends on the schedule of the Asylum Officer assigned to your case.
During the interview
Once the Asylum Officer is ready to conduct your interview, your name or number (if one was given) may be called. Individuals such as your spouse, children, interpreter, and attorney usually have to accompany you to the office as well.
You and accompanying individuals will typically be asked to affirm that you will tell the truth throughout the interview. The officer will most likely begin the interview by asking you to provide personal background information. During this time, the documents and information you have provided along with your asylum application will be cross-referenced. You may be asked specific details pertaining to why you have left your country and why you don’t want to go back.
Be prepared to discuss any information in your application that could potentially bar your eligibility for asylum, such as a criminal conviction.
Any information you provide during the interview may impact the decision of your case, so it is important that you fully understand all the questions asked and provide accurate responses. Don’t hesitate to ask the Asylum Officer to speak slower or repeat questions, especially if you do not have an interpreter present and English is not your first language.
How long does an asylum interview usually take?
While the exact duration of asylum interviews will vary depending on your specific case, it usually takes about one hour. If need a short break, whether it’s merely for the bathroom or to regain your composure before speaking about a sensitive issue, do not hesitate to ask the officer.
After the interview
The Asylum Officer will carefully go over all the information provided in your initial application as well as on the form. Once your case has been thoroughly assessed and the Asylum Officer has reached a decision, you will either receive a request to pick up the determination or receive it in the mail. The decision on your case may take anywhere from several weeks to several months, which usually depends on the complexity of your case among other factors.
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