Preparing for Your Affirmative Asylum Interview
Immigration Laws & Rights
I filed my asylum application. Now what?
After you file your application for asylum (Form I-589) and any attached documents, and it is receipted, you will receive an interview notice in the mail indicating your interview date and time as well as the address for the appointment.
The timeframe for when you will be scheduled for your interview varies. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) currently prioritizes the recently filed cases as well as cases where interviews previously had to be rescheduled. Ideally, you will be scheduled for an interview within a few months. However, due to the Houston Asylum Office’s high case volume, there is a possibility that it could take much longer given current case backlogs.
If you are an Afghan national who was paroled into the U.S. under Operation Allies Welcome between July 2021 and September 2022, USCIS is required to schedule you for an interview within 45 days of filing your application and to make a final decision within 180 days. We cannot guarantee that USCIS will do this, but they have committed to prioritizing these cases. See HR 5304 — 117th Congress (2021–2022).
How do I prepare for my interview?
Your asylum interview is an important part of your asylum application, and it is important to be prepared. After receiving your notice, review it carefully to make sure you fully understand the date/time, location, and current rules surrounding asylum interviews.
- All asylum interviews for applicants living in Texas occur in-person at the USCIS Houston Asylum Office. Confirm the address by checking your appointment notice.
- Who needs to come to my interview?
- The principal applicant and any family members in the United States included on the application must attend the interview.
- Currently, due to Covid restrictions, USCIS requires that you use their telephonic interpreters during an interview for most common languages. Do not feel pressured to proceed in a language you do not speak fluently. If USCIS cannot locate an interpreter in your best language for your interview, your appointment will be rescheduled.
If a lawyer represents you in your case, they may also attend the interview. You should always confirm with your lawyer whether their representation includes travel to the interview or not early in the application process.
Planning for Travel
Houston is approximately a three-hour journey by car from the Austin area. Most interview appointments are scheduled in the early morning. For these reasons, it is a good idea to travel to Houston the evening before the interview, if possible. Otherwise, you should allow for plenty of travel time the morning of the interview to account for traffic and delays.
You may only receive notice of your interview two or three weeks in advance, so you will want to make the following arrangements right away.
- Accommodation. If you plan to spend the night before the interview in Houston, confirm that your hotel or other accommodation is located close to the Houston Asylum Office. You can find their address on the interview notice.
- Transportation. Make plans for how you will get to and from Houston.
- Meals. There are few restaurants or stores located near the Houston Asylum Office. Consider packing meals to bring with you.
- Childcare. If you have young children who need to travel with you, you should arrange for a caregiver to stay with them during the interview.
What happens the day of the interview?
- The morning of the interview, plan to arrive at the Asylum Office 30 minutes before your appointment to allow yourself time to pass through security and check-in.
- At check-in, you may be asked for a photograph and your fingerprints as part of your application.
- You must bring all your original documents (such as passports, birth certificates, ID badges, letters, etc.) to your interview, even if you have previously submitted copies. They should be organized so that you can access them easily if requested to do so. Remember also to bring your interview appointment notice.
- Asylum interviews can be very long, more than three hours in many cases. We recommend that you pack water and eat a filling meal before your appointment.
- Under current covid protocols, asylum applicants may be seated in one office, and the asylum officers will be in another. You will be connected by a video and phone link. If you cannot hear or see the officer at any point, please let them know. In some cases, you may be interviewed in the same room as the officer, depending on current covid policies.
What will the asylum officer ask me?
The purpose of the asylum interview is to gather information so that USCIS can decide your case. An Asylum Officer will interview you. Asylum Officers are not law enforcement agents. They are employees of USCIS trained on asylum matters. Asylum interviews are not interrogations, and you should expect to be treated respectfully.
At the beginning of the interview, the Asylum Officer will introduce themselves and explain to you how the interview will proceed. They may review some preliminary documents with you and ask you to sign them. If you cannot read English, they can have an interpreter read them to you in your best language. Do not sign anything you do not understand.
The Asylum Officer will begin the interview by placing you under oath. Usually, asylum interviews take place in three parts.
- The first part of the interview involves reviewing your application form (Form I-589) to make any updates your changes. You should check your application before coming to the interview and note any corrections or changes. Typical changes include addresses, phone numbers, employment history, or name spellings. The asylum officer will make these changes to your application by hand and then ask you to review and agree to the changes.
- The second part of the interview involves discussing the substance of your asylum claim. You will be asked many questions about why you are afraid to return to your country. You should be honest, thorough, and specific in your responses. Do not embellish or lie.
If you do not understand a question, tell the officer right away. If you do not know the answer to a question or are unsure about it, say so.
This portion of the interview can be tiring. If you need to take a break or use the restroom, do not be afraid to say so.
Asylum officers take detailed notes on their computers during interviews. It is common for them to appear distracted, disinterested, or emotionally disengaged from your story. Occasionally, they may even appear frustrated with an answer you provide. This does not mean that your interview is going poorly. Try to stay focused on telling your story.
If at any point you have serious concerns about the behavior of the officer, you can request to speak with a supervising officer.
- In the third and final part of the interview, the officer will ask you several questions to determine if you are ineligible for asylum for specific reasons under U.S. law. These questions usually focus on whether you have had contact with violent or extremist groups, if you have ever been arrested, or if you have ever harmed anyone. In some cases, the officer may want you to review and consent to your answers to these questions in writing. Make sure you check everything carefully before signing.
If your spouse and/or children are listed on your application and are physically present in the United States, they must also attend your interview. The officer will want to ask them questions, usually at the beginning or end of the interview. Generally, these questions are meant to screen your family for any potential bars to asylum eligibility. Once the questioning is complete, your family members can leave the room.
What if I want to file additional documents?
If you have any additional documents that you wish to submit in your case, remember:
- You should mail them to the Asylum Office at least seven days before your interview, if possible.
- You must provide two copies.
- All documents must be in English, or include a certified translation.
Do not mail original documents.
You may file additional documents the day of the interview, but this may cause delays in processing your application.
What happens after the interview?
You will not receive a decision in your case on the same day of the interview. The Asylum Office should issue your decision by mail within six months of your interview date. If you move during that time, you must update your address on the USCIS website using Form AR-11.3
There are three possible outcomes following an interview:
- Your case is APPROVED, in which case you will receive an approval notice and I-94 card. The approval notice will explain your rights and responsibilities as an asylee.
- If you are in lawful status, your asylum case may be DENIED. In that case you will simply retain your current immigration status.
- If you are no longer in lawful status your case will be REFERRED to an Immigration Judge. This is not a denial. You will have the right to renew your claim before the judge.
If your case is referred, it will move to the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”) and you will be scheduled for a hearing. You can check your case status and hearing date online at the Automated Case Information system or by calling 800-898-7180.
Consider consulting with a reputable licensed attorney prior to appearing at any hearing. If you do not appear at your hearing, the judge can order you deported in your absence.
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