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How long do I have to wait for an asylum interview? Can I get work authorization while I am waiting for my asylum interview?

Asylum is a humanitarian immigration benefit applied for by individuals who fear severe harm or persecution if they return to their country of origin. For more information on asylum and other humanitarian relief, please click here.

Asylum can be applied for both directly to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within one year of entering the United States (called an affirmative asylum application) and asylum can also be applied for if an individual is in deportation proceedings (called a defensive asylum application).

After sending in an affirmative asylum application, you wait to be interviewed at your local Asylum Office of which there are 8 nationwide. Scheduling for interviews is currently extremely backlogged nationwide. The only exception to this backlog are unaccompanied minors who are given priority and who normally receive an interview within a matter of months. For other applications, it can take several years to receive an interview. For example, in February 2017, the New Jersey asylum office was interviewing people who submitted applications in May 2014 and the New York asylum office is interviewing individuals who submitted applications in December 2014. If you Asylum case is an affirmative asylum case that is denied, the case would then be handed over to the Asylum court and would turn in to a defensive asylum application.

For defensive asylum applications, the applicant has to be scheduled for a final hearing before an Immigration Judge, the timing of which varies in the Immigration Courts nationwide. The only exception is for individuals on the “surge docket” which primarily includes unaccompanied minors and adults with minor children from Central America who began entering the United States in large numbers starting in the summer of 2014 due to country conditions.  While timing in the Immigration Courts is much more varied, it can also take several years for an asylum hearing to be scheduled.

Can I get work authorization while I am waiting for my interview or final hearing?

Yes, you are authorized to have employment authorization 180 days after an application is filed. If you submitted an affirmative asylum application, you can mail in an application for employment authorization to the USCIS after 150 days. It currently takes approximately 3 months for employment authorization applications to be adjudicated by the USCIS, so generally speaking, an affirmative asylum applicant can in most cases receive work authorization approximately 8 months after applying for asylum. This work authorization is valid for one year and can renewed up until the asylum interview. Likewise, if you have a pending defensive asylum application in Immigration Court, you can submit an application for employment authorization 150 days after your application had been filed or lodged with the Court.

It is important to note that this time can be interrupted if you delay the adjudication of your asylum interview or hearing. For example, if you file an affirmative asylum application and you request to transfer the case to a different office or fail to appear at your fingerprint appointment, the time in which you delayed your case will be counted against you. In Immigration Court, common reasons why individuals may delay their final asylum hearing is by asking for additional time to prepare or declining an expedited asylum hearing date. In short, an individual is entitled to receive employment authorization 180 days after he or she is ready to be scheduled for an interview or hearing, but the delay in receiving the hearing is due to the Government not being able to schedule one sooner.

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