How the Asylum Office Referral Notice Can Help You Prepare Asylum Claim for Immigration Court

Does the Asylum Officer's stated reason for having refused to grant your asylum case provide any clues about how you should prepare to argue your case in front of an immigration judge?

By , J.D.

After you attend an asylum interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the officer will decide whether or not to grant your case. You won't be told the decision right away, however. More likely, the decision will be mailed to you (particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic) or you will be asked to return to the Asylum Office two weeks after the interview to pick up your decision. A clerk will then explain to you whether or not your asylum claim was granted.

If you do not receive an asylum grant, the next thing to happen (if you lack lawful immigration status in the U.S.) is that your case will be referred to an Immigration Judge. You will be given a Notice to Appear in immigration court (an "NTA"). The clerk will explain that you must appear in court and point out the time and date on the NTA.

The good news is, you can present your asylum case all over again before the immigration court judge. The bad news is, it's a much more complicated proceeding than the asylum interview was. And, there will be an attorney representing the U.S. government, who will cross examine you and likely try to make sure the judge denies your case.

So, you will need to prepare even more than you did for your asylum interview. Ideally, you will do this with the help of an attorney. But with or without an attorney, consider now what the issue was that caused the asylum officer to refuse to grant your case, and what you can do to overcome these objections.

Reviewing Asylum Office Referral Notice for Clues to Why You Were Not Granted

When you are referred to an Immigration Judge, you will also receive a Referral Notice. This is a letter written by the Asylum Officer explaining why you are being referred. The referral notice might state any or all of the following reasons:

  • You did not file your asylum claim within one year of your most recent entry into the United States.
  • Your testimony was not credible (believable).
  • You did not either experience persecution in the past or currently have a well-founded fear of future persecution.
  • You are barred from receiving asylum (read about Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status).

The Referral Notice is brief and usually not detailed. It will, however, state the basic reason why you were not granted asylum. Some officers provide more detail than others.

Dealing With the Reason Your Asylum Claim Was Not Granted

Having read your Referral Notice, it's time to think back on the asylum interview. If, for example, the reason given for the referral is that you were not credible, was there a particular topic about which you gave the wrong dates or were confused? Did the officer ask lots of follow-up questions on a particular topic, and perhaps even frown at your answers? If so, that is an important matter to get straight and clarify when you present your case again before the judge.

If an attorney accompanied you to the asylum interview, he or she should have taken notes detailing the questions the officer asked and how you answered them. Your attorney should be able to use these notes along with the referral notice to better explain why you were referred to the judge, and help you prepare for the court date accordingly.

If you don't have an attorney helping you, hiring one now, particularly if you're concerned about the strength of your case, might be a good idea. Also see What Will Happen at Your Individual Immigration Court Hearing on an Asylum Case.

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