What Will Happen at Your Asylum Interview?

If you're applying for asylum in the U.S., you'll need to attend an interview with a USCIS official. Here's what to expect and how to prepare.

If you are seeking asylum in the United States, you can expect to be called for an interview with a USCIS asylum interviewer shortly after submitting the required application (Form I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal).

The purpose of the interview is for a U.S. immigration official to hear your story in person, assess your credibility (whether you’re telling the truth), and decide whether your story qualifies you for the protection of the United States according to U.S. immigration and refugee law.

The interviewer will ask you questions about your application and your experience in your home country, as well as examine any documentation you may have submitted in support of your claim. (A well-prepared asylum claim usually requires submitting a large amount of documentation.)

Attending the interview and answering all questions as completely and accurately as possible is important. After the interview is over, you won’t be given a decision right away. Instead, the USCIS staff will consider your case and prepare a decision either granting you asylum or referring you to immigration court for removal proceedings.

Before the Interview

An attorney can help prepare you for the interview and can answer any questions you may have. But you can help the process by reviewing your own application many times, and making sure you’re clear on the dates of when the various things you’re describing happened, as well as what exactly happened.

Although it may seem unfair to expect a person to perfectly remember the dates of various events in their lives, asylum claims have been denied over this very issue. That’s because of credibility concerns. If you can’t tell the same story in person as you did on paper, USCIS will think that perhaps you’re not telling the truth at all.

If you don't speak English you may be required to bring your own interpreter. Although it’s okay to bring a friend or family member, make sure that person is highly skilled in both English and your native language. Interpreter mistakes can also lead to asylum claims being denied.

Questions to Expect

The interviewer can ask any questions he or she deems necessary to establish your fear of returning to your home country. These might include:

  • specific examples of persecution you experienced or were aware of
  • difficulties you anticipate if you return to your country
  • route taken to arrive in the United States
  • how you got the money to travel to the United States
  • questions about family members living abroad or in the United States
  • information on criminal charges, persecution of others, or your other activities in the United States or in your country, and
  • information to verify your claim of belonging to a particular group -- for example, if you claim to belong to a particular religious sect that experienced persecution, the examiner may test you on whether you know the central tenets and practices of that religion.

Get a Lawyer's Help

An interview with USCIS is a stressful meeting and one that requires careful preparation. You have a right to bring a lawyer along – although at your own expense. Given the risks if you are denied, however, it is highly recommended that you hire a qualified, experienced immigration attorney to work with you prior to and during the interview.

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