The Asylum Interview

After you file affirmatively for asylum, you will have an interview. What happens at this interview? And how do you prepare for it?

The interview is a non-confrontational conversation between the asylum applicant and an Asylum Officer. It takes place in an office; not a courtroom. You can bring an attorney and/or an interpreter with you to the interview. Before the interview, when you arrives at the Asylum Office, you need to check in. This consists of giving the interview notice to a receptionist, who will take your photo and fingerprints, and give you a paper to read. The paper reminds you of your obligation to tell the truth and lets you know that you can bring an interpreter with you to the interview. Do not sign the paper—you will sign it once you are with the Asylum Officer in the interview room.

The interview itself is divided into a few parts.

First, the Asylum Officer will explain and administer the oath, during which you will promise to tell the truth. If you have an interpreter, the Asylum Officer will also make her take an oath. For people using an interpreter, the Asylum Officer will call another interpreter on the phone, and this person will monitor the accuracy of the interpretation. If the interpreter you bring makes a mistake, the telephone interpreter will correct it (remember to speak loudly and clearly, so the person on the phone can hear you).

After the oath, the Officer will review your form I-589 and give you an opportunity to make any corrections or updates. It is important to review the form yourself before you go to the interview, so you are ready to make corrections and updates when the time comes.

Once the form is corrected, you will reach the heart of the interview, where the Officer will ask about why you need asylum in the United States. A few points to keep in mind here: First, if the Officer asks you a question that you do not understand, do not answer the question. Instead, ask for clarification. The Officer is typing what you say, thinking about his next question, and reading your file, all at the same time, so he may well ask you a poorly-worded question. It is not a problem—and indeed, it is common—for an applicant to ask the Officer to clarify a question. Do not be afraid to do that. Second, if you do not know the answer to a question, or do not remember the answer, do not guess. Just say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” If you guess, and your answer is different from your documents (or different from other information that the Asylum Officer has), it may cause the Asylum Officer to believe you are not telling the truth, which could result in your case being denied. Obviously, it is better if you know and remember the facts of your case, so make sure to review your statement before the interview.

There are certain questions that the Officers usually ask, and you should be prepared for them: Why do you fear returning to your country? If you or a family member have been harmed in the past, describe what happened. If you face harm from a terrorist group or other non-governmental actor, can your home government protect you? Is there somewhere in your country where you can live safely? If you are a member of a political party, the Officer might test your knowledge of the party by asking about its leaders or history. If you are seeking asylum based on religious persecution, the Officer might ask you about the tenets of your religion. For people who served in the military or police, the Officer might ask about the nature of your service, and whether you might have engaged in persecution of others. If you ever had any interactions with a terrorist or insurgent group, the Officer will ask about that. The Officer will also want to know about other countries you have lived in, or traveled through. If you left your country and then returned, the Officer may want to know why you returned home then, but do not want to go back now. Also, the Officer will have a copy of any prior visa applications (possibly including applications made to other countries or the United Nations) or any other documentation you submitted in an immigration matter, so you should be prepared for questions about prior applications. Of course, depending on your case, the questions will vary, and that is why it is so important to review your case before the interview and think about the types of issues that might come up (and if you have a lawyer, she should think about and work through these issues with you).

Usually near the end of the interview, the Officer will ask you the “bar questions,” which everyone must answer: Have you committed a crime or been arrested? Are you a terrorist? Did you ever have military training? etc.

Sometimes at the end of the interview, the Officer will ask whether you have anything else to add. Finally, the Officer will instruct you about the next steps–the Officer will not give you a decision on the day of the interview. Either you will be required to return to the Asylum Office to pick up your decision (usually in two weeks), or they will send the decision by mail.

The whole interview process can take an hour, but more often, it takes a few hours. On occasion, it takes many hours, and sometimes the Officer will ask you to return another day for more questions.

So what do you do to prepare for the interview? First, make sure you have submitted all your documents and evidence in advance. Second, review your statement and evidence prior to the interview. Think about what issues may come up, and how you want to respond to those issues. Bring with you to the interview your passport(s) and any original documents you have. If you have dependent family members as part of your application, they need to attend the interview too (though usually they will not be asked many questions by the Officer). Be on time or early.

The interview is a key part of your asylum case. If you know what to expect and are prepared to address the issues–especially any difficult issues–you will greatly improve your chances for a successful outcome.