When you apply for asylum affirmatively, within 21 days after you submit your asylum application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), you will receive a Notice to Appear for your interview with an Asylum Officer (“AO”) at your local asylum office. (For more details about timing, see Timing of the Affirmative Asylum Application Process.) Here, we'll describe exactly what takes place at that interview.
First, you'll want to make sure to arrive at the location and the time specified in the Notice. (If you need to reschedule your interview, see What to Do If You Can’t Make Your Asylum Interview.)
During the interview, the AO will ask you questions about your identity, information you had provided in your asylum application, any applicable bars to your eligibility for asylum, and any documents you had submitted in support of your application.
How you dress should not influence an asylum officer. However, it is possible that what you wear may have some subconscious effect on how the officer feels. Treat the interview as an important event and dress in a respectful manner. Don’t show up in torn jeans or dirty cutoffs, unless that's all you have. Bathe before the interview, and do not wear strong perfume or smoke, so that you don’t distract the officer with odors to which he or she may be physically sensitive.
You must bring originals of all the documents you relied on in your asylum application—such as your identity documents, travel documents, birth certificate, affidavits and declarations, photographs, and medical records. If any of the documents are not in English, make sure to bring their translations, and translation certificates. (See Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications.)
If your spouse or children under the age of 21 were included in your asylum application, they must accompany you to the interview. They should also bring original copies of their own (1) identity documents, (2) documents showing their relationship to you (such as birth or marriage certificates), and (3) any other documents supporting their asylum application. Make sure you bring any identity documents you have for your children, including passports, birth certificates or national identity cards.
After identifying each of your children, the officer will most likely suggest that they wait for you in the waiting room. For that reason, it's a good idea to bring a friend with you, who can either take the children for a walk or wait with them.
You are allowed to bring witnesses to the Asylum Office. Consider doing so if the person can testify about the harm you suffered or fear, or about other important parts of your asylum claim. Witnesses can be any age and can be in the United States with or without lawful immigration status. Witnesses can be family members or anyone who has firsthand knowledge of the story. The only people who cannot be witnesses are interpreters and representatives that the applicant brings to the asylum interview.
If you do not feel comfortable speaking in English, you must bring your own interpreter. Any person over the age of 18, who is not your attorney or a witness for your asylum claim, can act as your interpreter. Although family members are allowed to interpret for you, it is better to bring a professional. Family members are likely not to interpret word for word, and often add their own information. Also, the AO is likely to ask you about very personal issues, and you might be uncomfortable discussing them openly in front of your family.
Although not required, it is a good idea to have your attorney come with you. The attorney can help make sure that your interview is conducted appropriately and that any legal issues that might arise get clarified. If your attorney is running late or is unable to attend on the scheduled day, and you ask the AO to reschedule your interview for when your attorney is available, the AO might deny your request and conduct the interview as scheduled or refer your case to an Immigration Judge.
After you arrive at the location specified in your interview notice, you should report to the receptionist or clerk, so that the AO who is assigned to your case knows that you are there. If you bring any new documents supporting your asylum application that you had not already submitted, provide them to the receptionist. The AO will review them before interviewing you.
You will then be asked to wait for your interview. Depending on the other interviews and the AO’s schedule that day, you might have to wait several hours. If you are bringing children along, make sure to bring toys and snacks for them. (But check in advance whether the office lets you bring in food.)
The AO assigned to your case will take you into his or her private office. Your attorney and interpreter (if any) will also come along. No other officials will be in the room where you are interviewed. Everything you discuss with the AO will remain confidential, and will not be recorded (other than the officer's note-taking). (Also see Will My Asylum File Be Kept Secret?)
You will be asked to take an oath stating that you will only tell the truth. Your interpreter will also be asked to take an oath. If your religion does not allow you to “swear” or take oaths, you can explain this to the officer and ask that you be allowed to “affirm or promise” that your testimony will be truthful.
If you have any additions or corrections to your asylum application (for example, correcting a factual mistake or adding new supporting documents), make sure to tell the AO at the beginning of your interview.
The AO will have reviewed your asylum application and your immigration file before interviewing you. AOs are trained to conduct asylum interviews, and are familiar with country conditions in your country.
The AO will most likely begin by asking you about your identity and background, and will review your original identity documents that you have brought with you.
Then, you will be asked to explain why you are applying for asylum. The AO might ask you a general question about it (such as, “So, tell me, why are you seeking asylum?”) or might ask specific questions about information you had included in your asylum application or in any supporting documents. If any bars to eligibility for asylum might apply to you (such as the possibility that you were involved in the persecution of others or have a criminal record), the AO will also likely ask questions about them.
Of you do not understand a question, whether because of language or other issues, it's better to ask for clarification than to attempt to answer. For instance, you can:
Do not be concerned if the AO asks you the same question several times or in several different ways. This is done to test your credibility (that is, believability). Also, the AO might act like he or she does not believe you, and might even be unpleasant. Do not let that affect you, and do not get aggravated. The AO’s role is to test your credibility and your legal claim to asylum.
Always be honest, detailed, and consistent with what you had stated in your application. Do not exaggerate. In order to be granted asylum, you must be found credible. For details, see Chances of Winning a Grant of Asylum.
Some of the information you will be asked about will be very personal, and you might find it hard to discuss. You can ask for a short break to compose yourself, and then try your best to tell the AO all the important facts. Your ability to obtain asylum depends on that.
The entire interview will take at least an hour, depending on the particular facts of your case, and on what questions your AO decides to ask. Generally, the more facts your asylum application and your personal declaration contain, the longer your interview will last. The length of the interview, however, is not indicative of whether or not you will be granted asylum. Answer only the questions that you are asked.
Your attorney will also have a chance to make a short statement to the AO, and to clarify any concerns that the AO might have.
The AO will not reach a decision on your asylum application at the time of your interview. (In rare cases, you may even be asked to return for a second interview, for example, if the officer who interviewed you left, and another is taking over your case.) You will be asked to return to the Asylum Office to receive your decision or it will be mailed to you, within a few weeks after your interview.