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 factors) 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 the timing usually works.
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 days. 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, after you get fingerprinted.
Within 60 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, including your interview, you will be asked to return to the asylum office to receive the decision of the asylum officer or the decision will be mailed to you. The asylum officer will either grant your asylum application or 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 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 Judge will issue a decision on your application within approximately 120 days after your case was referred to the Immigration Court. The schedule for the individual merits hearing (at which you will present your case) has been at least 14 days after your master calendar hearing (your first appearance before the Judge); though in November, 2013, that is supposed to switch to 45 days, in order to give applicants suffiicent time to prepare their case.
Also, sometimes the Judge or the government attorney will need to reschedule hearing dates. Moreover, if you will be presenting lot of facts and witnesses, the Judge will likely schedule several merits hearings. Hence, it is likely that your asylum case will be pending before the Immigration Court for more than 120 days.
Remember that it is extremely important that you are fully prepared for your merits hearing. Therefore, an expedited hearing date might not give you enough time to present your asylum case as well as possible. 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 will take place approximately eight months to a year 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 for employment authorization 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 later hearing date than that proposed by the Judge), that extra delay time will not count toward the 150-day period required before you can apply for work authorization. If delays are requested or caused by the government or the Judge, however, then your clock is supposed to continue to add days. Your attorney may have to monitor the situation to make sure this actually happens, however. The asylum clock can be difficult to track, and has been the object of much concern among immigration advocates -- including a class action lawsuit, leading to a settlement that is to be implemented in November of 2013.