With illegal immigration, family separation, and refugees prevalent in the news lately, asylum has also become a hot topic of contention. In order to successfully apply for asylum, an applicant has to pass a “credible fear interview”. In this interview, an USCIS officer will sit down with the applicant and discuss the details of the applicant’s claim. The following is a brief description of what the interview process is like.
The asylum office in New York is located at 1065 Stewart Avenue, Bethpage NY 11714. To find your local office, please enter your zip code here. After you have filed your Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, USCIS will send a biometrics notice, usually within a month time. After completing biometrics, an interview notice will arrive with the date, time, and location of the interview.
Arriving at the Interview
Interviews are given in time slots starting from 7:30 in the morning to 3 pm. It is a good idea to arrive half an hour early as all attendees will have to go through a metal detector and security screening. The asylum applicant will be fingerprinted again and basic information such as address will be taken again. At the facility, if your interview slot is the first of the day, you will be given a number and told to wait in the waiting room until your number is called. If your slot is the second or third interview round of the day, you will be given a pager, similar to those given out while waiting for tables at a restaurant. With this you are free to roam within the building as usually the wait can be up to 3 or 4 hours. You will only be given a ticket number or a pager if every one of your party is present, if any member is missing, you will have to wait before getting in line for a ticket number. All members of the asylum application must be accounted for at the interview, including spousal dependents and underage children, although underage children can wait in the waiting room during the interview process.
Asylum applicants usually have a lawyer accompanying them (you can also waive the lawyer attendance, but it is highly encouraged to bring a lawyer). At the beginning of the interview, after the applicant has been sworn in, the officer will verify all personal information with the applicant, both to ensure that all information is up to date and that the person attending the interview is actually the applicant. After this, the interview will start. The officer usually has 10 to 15 minutes before bringing in an applicant to look over the documents. During the interview, the officer will be verifying the events that occurred as written in the personal statement and testing the applicant on their knowledge of the claim.
To give an example: an applicant has applied for asylum to escape the persecution of religious practices in China. The applicant has provided a personal statement stating how they were introduced to the religion, the underground church they attended to practice their beliefs, the religious figures they confided in, what happened when they were discovered by others to be practicing, and the events that led them to experience fear and flee. The officer quizzed the applicant on the dates, names, and events of the story. A general question such as “tell me what happened on the day you were caught” is prompt for the applicant to tell their story. Any sort of discrepancy between the story and the personal statement, hesitation in answering the question, stuttering or unsureness will then be quizzed on and asked to be explained. In this religion claim case, the officer also asked the applicant to recite Scripture, what their favorite passage of the bible was, and to explain one of the events in the bible.
If it is required, an applicant is allowed to bring a translator to the interview. The translator does not need to be certified, it can be a family or friend. The translator will be sworn in along with the applicant. The translator is only allowed to translate the question and the answer word for word, including any statement that are misspoken, stuttered, broken off, or interrupted. There will be translator moderator on the phone listening to all statements. If the moderator has found that the translator is not properly translating the questions or statements, the moderator will step in and correct the mistake. If there are too many corrections that the officer feels the translator cannot properly convey the story, the interview can be terminated with the translator ejected. Another interview time will be given.
At the end of the interview, standard security questions (similar to those listed on the I-485 form) will be asked.
After the Interview
The interview usually lasts an hour, although if the case is more complicated, the interview have lasted for up to 4 hours. The applicant will not be told at the interview whether or not they have been granted asylum, instead, the applicant will be given a notice to return in 2 weeks to pick up the decision. The pick up location is at the same asylum office.
There are three possible outcomes for the interview. 1. Granted, where the asylum application is approved and the applicant can now apply for adjustment of status based on an approved asylum applicant. This is very rare, less than 5% of the applicants are approved. 2. Denied, where the officer does not believe that there is credible fear. This is also very rare. And 3, deferred to the immigration courts. This is the most likely outcome where the officer was not able to determine credible fear and the case is deferred to the immigration courts to go through the master and individuals hearing processes with an immigration judge.
During the waiting period, the applicant can stay in the United States, apply for a work permit (6 months after submitting the application for asylum), and apply for a travel permit (although the applicant cannot travel back to the country they are fleeing from, for obvious reasons). The asylum application process has become more stringent in the recent year, just this month, Attorney General Sessions has ruled that domestic violence is no longer credible fear claim.
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