Rules for Bringing Interpreters to Immigration (USCIS) Interviews

Rules to follow when bringing someone to interpret between English and your own language at a USCIS immigration interview.

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

If you are from another country and not fluent or comfortable in English, and you need to attend an interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, you might need to bring your own interpreter. That way, the USCIS officer and you can communicate through this person acting as intermediary.

Exceptions to this broad rule include removal (deportation) hearings, at which an interpreter will be provided by the U.S. government, and naturalization (citizenship) interviews, because you are expected to know and be tested on your English language ability unless you've applied for a waiver based on age or disability.

Below, we'll explain what to know before you ask someone to serve as your interpreter at a green card interview at USCIS, including:

  • who is eligible to serve as interpreter
  • how to find a qualified interpreter, and
  • what paperwork the interpreter will have to fill out.

For more information on other aspects of the interview, see What to Expect at Your Family-Based Adjustment of Status Interview, The Day of Your Marriage-Based Adjustment of Status Interview, or What Should I Expect at My Asylum-Based Adjustment of Status Interview?.

USCIS Rules About Who's Eligible to Serve as Interpreter

The standards for interpreters (sometimes called translators, though technically translators handle only written text) who assist at interviews at USCIS field offices are set forth in the USCIS Policy Manual Chapter 5. This guidance does not cover situations where USCIS itself provides the interpreter; nor does it cover asylum, NACARA, credible fear/reasonable fear, naturalization, or overseas interviews.

The interpreter you bring to your interview will be expected to translate what the officer and you say verbatim (word-for-word) to the best of their ability without adding their own opinion, commentary, or answer.

The guidelines also give USCIS the power to disqualify someone from serving as interpreter, if the person is not competent (sufficiently fluent in both English and in the interviewee's language) or if it appears that the integrity of the interview will be compromised by this person's participation. The last thing they want is an interpreter who gets words wrong, or leaves out part of the testimony, or even changes words in an effort to help the applicant.

Certain people are not eligible to serve as interpreters at all, namely minors under the age of 18 (though an exception for good cause, such as lack of local interpreters who speak that language, may be made if the person is at least 14), witnesses in the case under consideration, and the applicant/interviewee's attorneys and legal representatives.

Finding a Qualified Interpreter

Fortunately, you need not necessarily pay a professional. The USCIS Policy Manual says it prefers that the person be a disinterested party, but it will allow individual officers to exercise discretion and let a friend or family member take on this role. (Then again, if you show up with a friend or family member and the USCIS officer refuses to exercise this discretion in your favor, your interview will likely have to be delayed to another day while you find a neutral interpreter.)

Check online reviews, ask friends, and contact local nonprofits serving immigrants in your effort to hire someone.

You and your interpreter should, if possible, practice beforehand. It's not easy to get into the rhythm of having someone interpret for you. You'll need to speak relatively slowly, and stop every few sentences, in order to give the interpreter the chance to fully hear and then repeat your words in English without forgetting what you said. And, practice gives your interpreter a chance to get used to your pronunciation and so forth.

Paperwork That Interpreter Must Submit to USCIS

The interpreter and you will have to jointly submit Form G-1256, Declaration for Interpreted USCIS Interview. Both the interviewee and the interpreter will be asked to sign this form at the start of the USCIS interview.

The form declaration states that the interpreter must accurately, literally and fully interpret for both the interviewee and the interviewing officer. It also reminds the interviewee that an interpreter might hear personal information, and requires the interpreter to agree not to disclose any such information learned in the interview.

Getting Legal Help

If you aren't comfortable in English, a USCIS interview can be a more stressful experience than it needs to be. Also, you might have questions about your basic eligibility for the immigration benefit you seek, and whether you have made any mistakes in your paperwork, or should expect any problems. Consulting with or hiring an experienced immigration attorney can make a huge difference in ensuring that your case goes smoothly, and ease your stress at the interview (which the attorney can attend as well).

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