What Happens at the USCIS Interview for Asylum?

At the asylum interview, an immigration officer from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), formerly the INS, will review the alien’s application for asylum to determine whether he or she should be granted status in the United States. The asylum applicant must arrive at the scheduled date and time at the regional service center with jurisdiction over the alien’s place of residence. Aliens are encouraged to arrive early and check in with the clerk because there will be multiple officers conducting simultaneous interviews at the center. The applicant’s interview is private and conducted in English. If the alien does not speak English, he or she is responsible for bringing an interpreter who must also sign the application, arrive with, and check in with the applicant. Non-native speakers seeking asylum should not be interviewed without an interpreter.

Presenting Evidence During the INS Interview

During the interview, the applicant must testify to a “well-founded” fear of persecution based on race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular group. By the time of the interview, the applicant should have already filed the asylum application, Form I-589, along with any additional evidence showing a credible fear due to past or future persecution based on one of the five protected grounds. Such evidence may include hospital records, death certificates, declarations detailing events of past harm in the country of origin, and any other documents showing that the alien has a reasonable fear of returning.

The immigration officer is responsible for reviewing the contents of the asylum application before the interview and asking any additional questions during the interview. The officer can ask the alien to recall past incidents of persecution and “test” him or her on the main details supporting that claim. One of the officer’s first duties is therefore to swear in the alien so that the he or she testifies under penalty of perjury. After being sworn in, the officer asks for original identity documents, such as a birth certificate, passport, or driver’s license. The alien should have these and any other original documents ready at the time of the interview.

Purpose of the Asylum Interview

The purpose of the asylum interview is first, to ascertain the asylum applicant’s credibility, then to adjudicate the merits of his or her claim. The alien should therefore testify truthfully and try not to guess. The testimony should not contradict any declarations or statements made in the application. If, for example, the alien fears being further persecuted in his or her home country because of being threatened in the past, the applicant should answer the officer’s questions about past persecution without lying or exaggerating the truth. The first hurdle, after all, is to be found believable, and to not fabricate events you believe would “win” the case. Because filing a frivolous asylum application and testifying falsely during an interview can have long term, serious repercussions on the alien’s ability to stay in the United States, the importance of being truthful bears repeating.

What Happens After the Asylum Interview? 

After the officer conducts the interview, makes copies of the pertinent identity documents, and reviews the record on file, he or she may grant the alien asylum. If there is additional evidence needed to support the claim, the officer may issue a request for evidence (RFE) giving the alien up to 180 days to respond. Alternatively, the alien may be given a later date on which to return to the service center and receive a decision on the claim. The officer also has discretion to deny the application and refer the alien to an immigration judge. If this occurs, the alien is placed in removal proceedings in immigration court and has another opportunity to seek asylum before a judge.

A notice to appear in court and a hearing notice will be sent to the alien at his or her last known address. It is therefore imperative to keep USCIS informed of your most current address and alert them if you move. Otherwise, you will not receive notice of important interview and court dates. Failure to appear for an asylum interview could result in the denial of your application and your immediate referral to an immigration judge.