Organizing for any interview can be intimidating, especially when potential safety and freedom depends on the outcome. Asylum seekers are expected to be well-prepared for their interview with an asylum officer, which includes gathering documents as well as people.
Here are five steps to help asylum seekers learn how to prepare for an asylum interview:
- Gather all documents related to the case
- Ask a friend or family member to conduct a practice interview
- Bring paper and pens to write everything discussed in the interview
- Bring the family members who are on the same application
- Confirm the asylum office address
What To Bring to an Asylum Interview
By this time, applicants have submitted their application and all supporting documents to the asylum office. While they anticipate a notice regarding the scheduled interview, this is the perfect time to begin preparing for the interview itself. The following items detail what is mandatory, advised and what is highly recommended.
Mandatory: Documents & People
Even though the asylum applicant has previously submitted his or her application to the asylum office, it is of highest importance to bring original proof of identity as well as copies of all case-related documents. Failure to do this will result in an automatic cancellation of the interview, and it will be rescheduled for another day.
The following is a checklist of documents required:
- Identification such as passports and other identification documents
- Original Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal (I-589)
- Arrival and Departure Records (I-94), if you received them upon arrival to the United States
- Original birth certificates of everyone on the application
- Original marriage certificate, if applicable
- Additional relevant documents not previously submitted
- Certified translation of all documents not in English
- Declaration (personal statement)
- All other supporting documents originally submitted with the application
While it may be somewhat difficult to bring other people along to the interview, all people listed on the asylum application must be present. This includes the applicant's spouse and children (if the children are under the age of 21).
If the applicant is in the U.S. without their spouse and/or children, the applicant must wait until after he or she has been granted asylum to bring their family members to the U.S. The way to do that is to submit the Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (I-730) to the USCIS office. Such family members will be “following-to-join refugees.” Once more, an asylee is one who is already in the United States. A refugee is one who is not.
It is possible asylum applicants may be deaf or hard of hearing, inproficient in the English language or feel more comfortable with legal representation. Applicants with additional people associated with their case should accompany the asylum seeker in their interview.
Such people are:
- Immigration attorney or representative
If the applicant is deaf or hard of hearing, accommodations by the asylum office will be made. The applicant should simply contact the office where the interview will be to request such arrangements.
It is important to note, the USCIS does not provide asylum seekers with an interpreter before, during or after the interview. Nor is an “interpreter” allowed to be less than 18 years of age. Provisions must be made (by the applicant) for an interpreter fluent in the applicant’s language, as well as in English. An interpreter must be someone other than any government employees from the applicant’s home country, witnesses, lawyers, or representatives.
Asylum applicants should be advised - their interpreter must be competent in English. If neither the applicant nor their interpreter are proficient in English, there will be no advancement of the asylum interview, as it will be canceled immediately. The applicant will be at fault, and rescheduling of the interview must be made. This will cause further delays in the asylum application process itself, as well as any possible applications for Employment Authorization (I-765) or Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (I-730).
Immigration attorney or representative
If an asylum seeker wishes to have legal representation with them during the interview (or in immigration court), there are several ways to procure such representation. The applicant can use their own immigration attorney, or find free or lowered-cost “pro bono” attorneys. The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has a reputable list of pro bono legal service providers, according to the applicant’s state.
Despite the fact it is not required for attorneys to be present in asylum interviews, the applicant has the right to have them there. If they wish to be present but are out of town, they may be allowed to participate remotely, via phone or video conferencing. The list of states with this provision can be found on the USCIS website.
It is permissible for applicants to bring a witness(es) to the asylum interview. Regardless of age or legal status, they should be able to tell the officer about the harm directly inflicted on the person seeking asylum. This person’s presence is because they witnessed torture, persecution, threats of bodily harm, or any other true incident. Or, they are familiar with the applicant’s fear of personally-targeted oppression if they were to stay in their country origin.
Asylum seekers should be aware, legal representatives and/or interpreters cannot act as witnesses.
- Child sitter
It is common to wait several hours before the asylum interview begins. This is important to remember, especially if the applicant has children. It is completely acceptable to bring snacks and a couple of small toys, in case the children get hungry or restless - and is highly suggested.
Once the applicant and their family proceed to the interview, the asylum officer will identify each family member listed on the application. Then, the officer will advise the children to return to the waiting room for the remainder of the interview. In this likely scenario, it would be wise to have an adult who is not listed on the application to supervise the children.
It is also recommendable for applicants to carry with them a pen and some paper. While many people have great memory recall, it is advised to write everything discussed. Other than showing preparedness, this also provides a way for applicants to write questions which may arise.
How Long Is an Asylum Interview?
Asylum interviews are usually more than one hour. The more questions the officer asks and the more facts related to the case dictate to how long the interview will be. Some people’s asylum application and personal statement is more detailed, which means the interview will be longer than others.
Of course the applicant wants to give all the information he or she can, but they should not answer questions the officer does not ask. This is unnecessary and will cause the interview to be even longer.
Even though repeatedly asking the asylum officer to restate some questions adds more time to the interview, it is better to fully understand each question.
What To Expect During an Asylum Interview
There are three parts to an asylum interview:
- Application review (the asylum officer will ask questions included in Form I-589)
- The reason why the petitioner does not want to return to their home country
- Statutory bars (yes/no questions used to determine asylum eligibility)
Plus, there will be an opportunity toward the end of the interview for the asylum seeker to ask questions.
In the first part of the interview, the applicant, interpreter and monitor (contract interpreter) will take an oath, swearing to be honest and accurate. Then the asylum officer will ask the applicant some basic personal information (as listed on the asylum application) to verify the petitioner’s identity, and whether any medication/medical condition could prevent them from testifying.
The officer will mention how the case decision will not be given that day, but in two weeks. This is when the applicant may return to pick up the final decision, or receive the letter in the mail.
Then he or she will ask the petitioner who helped them prepare their application and/or declaration. The applicant just needs to tell the officer who helped them fill out the asylum application and write their personal statement (declaration), whether it is true and correct, and if there are changes to be made to the application and declaration.
In the second part, the asylum seeker will be given the opportunity to tell the officer why he or she does not want to return to their home country. This is either because they have endured personally-targeted persecution or harm, or because they have a substantial fear they will most likely be persecuted in the future (and how the government will not or cannot do anything to stop it).
In the third part of the interview, the officer will ask simple yes/no questions which could prevent the petitioner from being granted asylum in the United States. These are called “statutory bars.” Such bars include entry to the U.S., previous resettlement in another country, persecution of other people, criminal history, military and police involvement, association with violent groups, and terrorism.
Asylum seekers should remember this is an interview, and there will be a multitude of questions. A great example of a practice interview can be found here.
- It is okay to ask the officer to repeat any question you did not understand
- Feel free to ask the officer to speak a little slower
- Take the time you need to answer the question, especially if it is a difficult one
- Expect the officer to ask you the same question(s) more than once, or in a different way
- Remember some of the questions will be extremely personal
- Do not be offended if the officer appears unpleasant or like they do not believe you
- Be as honest and detailed in your responses as you can
- Don't rush the interview process
- Request water or a bathroom break if needed
- Respond with, “I don’t know/remember,” if you do not know the answer to a question
As previously mentioned, interpreters are not provided during the interview. There will be, however, “contract interpreters” monitoring the asylum interview, either in person or by phone.
The asylum applicant’s interpreter must provide accurate and neutral interpretation, or the contract interpreter will interrupt the interview to inform of such inaccuracies.
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What types of questions will the asylum officer ask me?
- Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
- Are you feeling okay today?
- Do any medications/conditions prevent you from testifying today?
- Who helped you prepare this application and declaration?
- Were you given a copy of the application in your language, or was it read to you in your language?
- Are you aware of the contents of the I-589 and declaration?
- Is everything true and correct?
- Are there any changes you want to make to your application?
- What is your name?
- Have you used any other names?
- Have you ever used a different name or birthdate?
- Is this a true birth certificate?
- Were you born in a hospital?
- Can you tell me about your home country’s flag, currency, clothing, and religion?
- Who is the head of the religion, and what are the main tenets of the religion?
- Why are you applying for asylum?
- What harm did you specifically suffer?
- What happened? When? How old were you? Who was this person? Why?
- What is the worst thing that happened to you?
- Did you go to the doctor, hospital, teacher, or police? If not, why not?
- Why are you afraid of returning to your country?
- Who would harm you? How would they find you?
- How many others have returned and been harmed?
- Have you ever returned?
- How would you be recognized?
- Why can’t you live in another part of your country?
- Do you own a house?
- Is there current violence in your country?
- Is it difficult getting a job in your country?
- Do you have a job here?
- Has it been easy finding work here?
- Is there a lack of education in your country?
- What did you tell the embassy about why you needed a visa to come here?
- Are you in legal status?
- Are you taking classes?
- Did you enter the U.S. using fraudulent documents or false claims?
- When did you leave your country?
- How do you know that was the date you left?
- Where did you enter the U.S.?
- Did you have legal status in any other country?
- Have you ever been to any countries other than yours and the United States?
- Have you ever applied for immigration status in any other country?
- Have you ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of others?
- Have you ever been arrested, anywhere in the world?
- Have you committed crimes anywhere in the world for which you were not arrested?
- Have you or your family ever been in the military or received weapons for training?
- Have you ever been a part of a gang or cartel? Or given any support?
- Have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization?
- Have you ever given money, food, water, shelter, support, or any other aid to terrorist organizations, even if it was against your will?
Conclusion For How To Prepare For An Asylum Interview
The asylum interview process can be lengthy and somewhat intimidating, so it is important for petitioners to be well-prepared in the matters of people, documents and responses. All family members listed on the I-589 application must be present; with their respective identity documents, and accounts of persecution and/or fear of future persecution.
Though children (younger than 21) must be in the asylum office for the first part of the interview, young children are often asked to return to the waiting room. For this reason, it is important to have a babysitter, snacks and small toys. Applicants are also advised to bring a pen and paper to the interview.
Interpreters and attorneys are not required, nor are they provided, so it is the applicant’s responsibility to secure whichever is necessary.
Originals and copies of all documents are required, otherwise the interview will be rescheduled. Accommodations for deaf or hard of hearing applicants are free, but arrangements must be made with the asylum office prior to the interview.
Honesty and accuracy are required - both from the applicants and the interpreters.
The decision to grant asylum is not given the day of the interview. It is generally given two weeks afterwards.
Though it is not mandatory to have legal representation, it is important to consider because immigration attorneys are experienced in asylum petitions. They can help asylum seekers prepare the convincing documentation essential to support their asylum request.
Frequently Asked Questions About How To Prepare For Asylum Interviews
Where will my asylum interview be?
After submitting the I-589 to the USCIS, applicants will receive a Notice to Appear for the asylum interview at their local asylum office. More specifically, in the asylum officer’s private office.
Who will be in the room during an asylum interview?
All applicants named on the application must be in the interview. Additionally, the asylum officer and a monitor will also be present. Witnesses, interpreters or representatives are encouraged to attend as well.
What kinds of accommodations are provided during an asylum interview?
The asylum office will provide Sign Language Interpreters (ASL) upon the petitioner’s request. This is free, and arrangements must be made soon after the interview is scheduled (before the day of the asylum interview.) Water breaks and/or bathroom breaks are also permitted when needed.
If I do not go to my asylum interview, can it be rescheduled?
A written explanation why the petitioner did not attend must be submitted to the asylum office within 45 days after the date of the interview. If it is determined to be reasonable and acceptable, the petitioner will receive notice of the rescheduled date. If the applicant does not have legal immigration status, their case will be referred to immigration court.
If the reason does not indicate extraordinary circumstances, if the applicant has legal status in the U.S., or if 45 days has passed, his or her case will be officially closed - and they will receive a notice titled, “Dismissal of Asylum Application – Failure to Appear.”