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), you may find yourself waiting for years for an interview date and decision. Here's an overview of how affirmative asylum timing usually works.
According to Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) § 208(d)(5), the asylum interview should take place within 45 days after the date the application is filed and a decision should be made on the asylum application within 180 days after the date the application is filed, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
However, the reality is that the U.S. government decides very few affirmative asylum applications within this timeline. In 2012 and 2013, a large influx of Central American and South American migrants fleeing violence led to a surge of of new asylum applications, and a massive backlog at USCIS has persisted since that time.
At first, USCIS responded by creating a three-tier prioritization system for asylum cases:
Then in 2018, it instituted a new scheduling policy, in which the most recent asylum applicants will be called in for interviews BEFORE those who had applied earlier, and within 150 days. (That way, applicants are unlikely to receive a work permit until and unless they win their asylum case. USCIS says this will deter people "from using asylum backlogs solely to obtain employment authorization by filing frivolous, fraudulent or otherwise non-meritorious asylum applications.")
So, depending on when you applied, your asylum application might be placed in a long wait queue—or a very short one.
Within 21 days after USCIS receives your complete asylum application, you should receive a receipt notice (confirming that USCIS received your application).
In about one to two months after USCIS received your application, you will receive a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment notice for you and any children included in your asylum application who are older than 14. 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 be interviewed at one of the eight U.S. asylum offices if you live close to one of them, or an asylum officer will travel to your local 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.
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, 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.
In December 2014, in response to the large backlog of third priority asylum cases, USCIS created the Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin, which is updated monthly. As of 2018, you can expect a wait of between two and three years for an interview.
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 decision will be mailed to you. Although you should receive a decision within two to three months, there have been reported wait times of more than a year, in a minority of cases. The asylum officer will either grant your asylum application or refer your application to the 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. Even if you accept the expedited schedule, the judge will usually schedule the individual merits hearing (at which you will present your case) at least 14 days after your master calendar hearing (your first appearance before the judge).
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 the expedited hearing. If you waive your right to an expedited hearing, your merits hearing might be scheduled more than two to three years after your case was referred to the Immigration Court.
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 employment authorization while awaiting the decision on your case. You cannot receive authorization to work unless your asylum case has been pending for 180 days or more. The government works very hard to make sure this doesn't happen, however.
The 180-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 schedule before the Immigration 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 subject of much discussion and concern among immigration advocates.