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). Here's what to expect.
The reason you must attend an asylum interview is so that a U.S. immigration official can 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 might have submitted in support of your claim. (A well-prepared asylum claim usually requires a large amount of documentation.)
Attending the interview and answering all questions as completely and accurately as possible is important.
Ideally, you'll want an attorney to help prepare you for the asylum interview and to answer your questions about what to expect. But with or without an attorney, you'll want to review the I-589 application you filed, as well as your attached personal statement and documents many times. Make sure you're clear on the dates of when the various things you're describing happened, as well as what exactly happened.
Although it might 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, or keep your facts straight when talking to the officer, USCIS might logically think that perhaps you're not telling the truth at all.
If you don't speak English, you might be required to bring your own interpreter. (But during the pandemic, USCIS has been arranging for telephonic interpreters in asylum interviews for many languages.) Although it's okay to bring a friend or family member for this role, make sure that person is highly skilled in both English and your native language. Interpreter mistakes can also lead to asylum claims being denied.
Asylum interviewers can ask any questions they deem necessary to establish the applicant's fear of returning to the home country. You might to be asked things like:
If you don't understand a question, don't guess or fumble for an answer. Ask the officer to repeat or rephrase it.
After the interview is over, you won't be given a decision right away. Instead, the USCIS officer and staff will consider your case and prepare a decision either granting you asylum or referring you to immigration court for removal proceedings. You might be asked to pick up the decision in person, or it might be mailed to you.
An interview with the USCIS Asylum Office can be stressful, and definitely requires careful preparation.
You have a right to bring a lawyer along; although it's 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. Fortunately, many nonprofit organizations can provide free or low-cost attorneys for this purpose.