Timing of the Affirmative Asylum Application Process

The asylum process is difficult to track but knowing this information can help you as apply or wait for asylum.

By , Attorney

If you have filed 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), exactly when you will be scheduled for an interview will depend on when you filed your application. Here's an overview of how affirmative asylum timing usually works.

USCIS Deadlines for Affirmative Asylum Application Processing

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) at § 208(d)(5), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should conduct the asylum interview within 45 days after the date the application is filed, and make a decision on the asylum application within 180 days after the date the application is filed, unless exceptional circumstances arise.

Actual Asylum Interview Wait Times

Large influxes of Central American and South American migrants fleeing violence have led to a surge of new asylum applications and a massive backlog at USCIS, however. This prevented the agency from complying with the deadlines. To address the problem, USCIS implemented a "last in, first out" policy in 2018. This policy created a three-tier prioritization system for asylum cases, taking them in the order of:

  1. applications that were scheduled for an interview, but either the applicant or USCIS requested a new interview date and (as of more recently) evacuees from Afghanistan
  2. applications that have been pending 21 days, and
  3. all other pending affirmative asylum applications in the order they were received, with newest cases scheduled first.

So, depending on when you applied, your asylum application might be placed in a years-long wait queue (if you applied before January 31, 2018), or a very short one (if you applied after January 31, 2018).

Receiving Scheduling Notices From USCIS

Within 30 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, it should send you a receipt notice (confirming that it got your application). In some cases, USCIS takes longer than 30 days to send receipt notices.

At the same time or shortly thereafter, USCIS will send you a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment notice. It requires you, any spouse included in your asylum application, and any children included in your asylum application who are older than 14 to appear and have biometric information taken. This is normally completed at a USCIS application support center, which is likely to be closer to your home location than the asylum office.

Eventually, you will either be scheduled for an interview at one of the eight U.S. asylum offices or an asylum officer will travel to your local USCIS office to meet you. Currently, the asylum offices are located in the following cities: Arlington (VA), Chicago, Houston, Miami, Newark, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Unfortunately, being scheduled literally means you will receive an interview notice with the date and time you are expected to show up; typically two to three weeks in the future. The asylum office doesn't get in touch to find out whether you are available around that time. This can be shocking and inconvenient for people who waited ten years or more for an interview; and underscores the importance of advising the asylum office if you change your address.

CAUTION: Do your best not to miss the interview! The asylum officer will wait 45 days from the date you missed your interview before making a decision on your case. If you haven't gotten in touch by then and you are not in valid immigration status, the officer will mail a "referral notice for failure to appear" and a Notice to Appear in immigration court. In other words, you will be put in removal proceedings and have to see an immigration judge. If you are in valid immigration status, your asylum application will be dismissed. Missing the interview might also prevent you from getting a work permit.

Post-Interview Timing of Decision

After USCIS receives your complete asylum application and has held an interview with you, you will be asked to return to the asylum office to receive the decision of the asylum officer or the asylum officer will inform you that a decision will be mailed to you. Although you should receive a decision within two to three months, there have been reported wait times of up to a year.

The asylum officer will either grant your asylum application or refer your application to the immigration court. If you are still in valid immigration status and the asylum officer does not believe you qualify for asylum, the asylum officer will deny your case.

Timing of Immigration Court Decision on Your Asylum Case

If the asylum officer refers your asylum application to the immigration court, you will be scheduled for a master calendar hearing (your first appearance before the immigration judge). There, the immigration judge might 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 immigration judge will issue a decision on your application within approximately 180 days after your case is referred to the immigration court. If you accept the expedited schedule, the immigration judge will likely schedule the individual merits hearing (at which you will present your case) at least 14 days after your master calendar hearing.

Sometimes the immigration judge or the government attorney will need to reschedule the hearing date or the immigration judge will not offer an expedited removal timeline. Moreover, if you will be presenting a lot of facts and witnesses, the immigration judge might need to schedule several merits hearings. Hence, it is likely that your asylum case will be pending before the immigration court for more than 180 days.

It is extremely important that you are fully prepared for your individual merits hearing. 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, you can decline the expedited hearing. If you waive your right to an expedited hearing, your individual merits hearing might be scheduled more than two to three years after your case was referred to the immigration court.

That could be a problem if conditions in your home country improve enough that your fear of persecution becomes less credible. Additionally, declining an expedited hearing date could be considered a delay in your asylum application that could prevent you from getting a work permit.

How Timing of Asylum Application Affects Eligibility for Employment Authorization

If your asylum case has been pending for more than 365 days since you filed your complete asylum application with USCIS, you might be eligible to apply for employment authorization during the wait. You cannot receive authorization to work unless your asylum case has been pending for 365 days or more, you have not caused any delays that are still ongoing at the time of your work permit application, and you are not otherwise ineligible. The U.S. government works hard to make sure this doesn't happen.

So, if you request a continuance (a later asylum interview date than that scheduled by an asylum office or a non-expedited hearing schedule before the immigration judge), and that delay is still ongoing after your application has been pending 365 days, you will not be eligible for a work permit.

If delays are requested or caused by the government or the immigration judge, however, you should remain eligible to receive a work permit after 365 days, so long as none of the other ineligibility criteria apply to you.

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