The process of filing an affirmative application for asylum in the U.S. (meaning one where you are in the U.S. but not in removal or deportation proceedings) moves fairly quickly, at least at the beginning. But if you aren't approved during the first round of decision-making, it can stretch on for years. Here's an overview of how how long the whole process can take.
How Long It Will Take for USCIS to Process Your Affirmative Asylum Application
According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should follow the following timeline:
Within 21 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, you will receive the following via mail:
- receipt notice (confirming that USCIS received your application)
- biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment notice for you and any children included in your asylum application who are older than 14, and
- interview notice (specifying the place, day, and time of your asylum interview).
Within 43 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, you will be interviewed at one of the eight U.S. asylum offices if you live close to one of them. Currently, the asylum offices are located in the following cities: Arlington (VA), Chicago, Houston, Miami, Newark, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
If you live far from one of the asylum offices, your interview might be scheduled a bit later than within the 43 day timeframe. This will depend on when an asylum officer can travel close to your location. Note that you will be interviewed only after you (and all your children included in the asylum application who are older than 14) have been fingerprinted. If you are not fingerprinted by the date of your scheduled asylum interview, the asylum office will reschedule your interview to a later date.
Within 60 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, including your interview, you will receive your decision. The asylum officer will either grant your asylum application or deny it and refer your application to the Immigration Court.
What Will Happen if Your Affirmative Application Referred to Immigration Court
If the asylum officer refers your asylum application to the Immigration Court, the Immigration Judge (IJ) will ask you whether you accept an expedited hearing. This will not affect how your case is processed or how likely it will be for you to obtain asylum. Instead, it will shorten all of your court deadlines.
Under the expedited removal timeline, the IJ will issue a decision on your application in 45 to 180 days after your first master calendar hearing (your first appearance in Immigration Court). Your individual merits hearing (at which you will present your case) will be at least 45 days after your master calendar hearing. For many people whose affirmative asylum case is referred to Immigration Court, accepting an expedited hearing is a good plan because you will have already done much of the legwork completing your application and doing your country condition research.
However, it is extremely important that you are fully prepared for your merits hearing. In some instances, an expedited hearing date might not give you enough time to present your asylum case as well as you might like. If you feel that you will need more time to prepare your case, you can decline expedited hearing. If you waive your right to an expedited hearing, your merits hearing may be a year or two after your case was referred to the Immigration Court.
How the Timing of Your Asylum Application Affects Your Eligibility for Employment Authorization
If your asylum case has been pending for more than 150 days (since you filed your complete asylum application with USCIS), you will be eligible to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) while awaiting the decision on your case. The government works very hard to make sure this doesn't happen, however.
The 150-day “asylum clock” will be stopped when your actions interrupt or cause any delays in the processing of your case. So, if you request a continuance (a later asylum interview date than that scheduled by an asylum office), or a non-expedited hearing date, that extra time will stop the clock and will not count toward the 150 days that must elapse before you are eligible to apply for an EAD. To learn more about this, see Nolo's article, "When Can Asylum Applicants Apply for a Work Permit?"