What to Expect at Your Asylum Interview

The asylum interview is a critical step in obtaining asylum in the U.S.. Learn what questions to expect and how to prepare.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are seeking asylum in the United States in order to obtain protection from persecution in your home country, you can expect to be called for a personal interview with a USCIS asylum interviewer. This will likely be scheduled shortly you submit the required application (Form I-589 Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal). Here's what to expect at that interview.

Purpose of an Asylum Interview

The reason you must attend an asylum interview is so that a U.S. immigration official at a specialized "Asylum Office" can hear your story in person, assess your credibility (whether you are 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 asylum officer 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, such as a personal statement describing your experience and what persecution you experienced or now fear, newspaper articles, human's rights agency reports, personal letters or photos, and the like.)

Attending the interview and answering all questions as completely and accurately as possible is crucial to the success of your asylum claim.

Before the Asylum Interview: How to Prepare

Ideally, you will 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 should review your copy of 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 cannot keep your facts straight when talking to the officer, USCIS might logically think that perhaps you are not telling the truth at all.

If you don't speak English, you must bring your own interpreter. (Although during the pandemic, USCIS arranged for telephonic interpreters in asylum interviews for many languages, this is no longer taking place.) It's okay to bring a friend or family member for this role, but make sure that person is highly skilled in both English and your native language. Interpreter mistakes can also lead to asylum claims being denied.

Also make sure that the interpreter you choose is not:

  • your attorney or accredited representative
  • a witness testifying on your behalf
  • a representative or employee of your government, or
  • someone who also has submitted an asylum application and has not yet been interviewed.

Questions to Expect at Asylum Interview

Asylum interviewers can ask any questions they deem necessary to establish the applicant's claimed fear of returning to the home country. You might to be asked about things like:

  • 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 (if you spent a long time somewhere else, questions will arise as to whether you received residency rights there, in which case you U.S. asylum claim will be denied on the basis of firm resettlement)
  • how you got the money to travel to the United States or who helped you
  • questions about your family members living abroad or in the United States
  • information on any criminal charges on your record, or any history of having persecuted other people, or about your other relevant 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 asylum officer is likely to test you on whether you know the central tenets and practices of that religion.

If you don't understand a question, don't guess or fumble for an answer. Ask the asylum officer to repeat or rephrase it.

What Happens After the Asylum Interview

After the asylum interview is over, you will not be given a decision right away. Instead, the USCIS officer and staff will consider your case and prepare a written decision either granting you asylum or referring you to immigration court for removal (deportation) proceedings. You might be asked to pick up the decision in person, or it might be mailed to you. If you are referred to immigration court, it means facing the prospect of deportation. Nevertheless, you can present your asylum claim again, to the judge, and possibly receive an asylum grant then.

Get a Lawyer's Help With Asylum Claim and Interview

An interview with the USCIS Asylum Office can be stressful, given the high stakes, and it definitely requires careful preparation.

You have a right to bring a lawyer along; although it will be at your own expense. (The government doesn't provide free lawyers.) 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.

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