What Should I Expect at My Asylum-Based Adjustment of Status Interview at USCIS?

After filing Form I-485 for adjustment of status in the U.S., here's what an asylee should prepare for in terms of questions and issues at the USCIS interview with regard to green card eligibility.

By , J.D., University of Michigan Law School

If you have lived in the United States for one year or more after being granted asylum, you are eligible to apply for what's called "adjustment of status." It's the U.S.-based process for someone to become a lawful permanent resident (get a "green card"). In addition to the one-year physical presence requirement, an asylee must:

  • continue to meet the definition of refugee
  • not be firmly resettled in another country, and
  • not be subject to certain grounds of inadmissibility to the U.S. (or if they are, qualify for a waiver).

You don't need to take active steps to prove these, but if any appear to be issues in your case, be ready to address them in your adjustment application and at your interview (potentially with the help of an attorney). This article will explain how the interview might proceed.

Benefits of Applying for a U.S. Green Card

In case the prospect of the USCIS interview seems intimidating, it's worth remembering that as an asylee, it's in your best interest to apply for a green card as soon as you can. This is especially true because, after five years, green card holders are eligible to apply for naturalization. Asylees are also given one year's credit for their time as an asylee, which means most will be able to apply for naturalization only four years after getting their permanent residence approved.

Once you're a naturalized U.S. citizen, you can no longer be deported from the United States (except in rare cases, mostly involving fraud) and thus need not fear being sent back to the country that persecuted you.

Procedural Steps Leading Up to Your USCIS Interview

After you submit your complete adjustment of status application (Form I-485 and supporting documents), you will be issued a notice for a fingerprint (biometrics) appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC). You must attend this.

Later, you will be sent an appointment notice for an interview at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.

What to Bring to Your USCIS Interview

Prepare to bring your original I-94, birth certificate, and passport with you, and any other documents USCIS requests.

Attending Your USCIS Interview

Plan to arrive at the USCIS office at least 30 minutes before your scheduled interview time. If you cannot make it, contact that office as soon as possible. You will likely be able to reschedule for another date.

When you arrive, you will probably need to go through security and a metal detector, so double-check that you aren't carrying around a small knife, or self-defense (or offense) items such as pepper spray, which could be confiscated and possibly not returned.

Also be ready to sit in a waiting room for a long time; the interview doesn't always take place exactly when planned. You might not be allowed to bring food, so have a good meal ahead of time.

The USCIS officer will eventually call you into a small cubicle. The officer will begin your interview by asking you to swear to tell the truth, then reviewing the information in your adjustment of status application. Let the officer know if anything in your application has changed, for example you have changed your address or have had a child. Bring a copy of proof of such events for the file, such as the child's birth certificate.

Throughout the interview, be polite and respectful to the officer. Answer all questions directly. Do not give information unrelated to the questions asked.

What the USCIS Officer Will Base the Decision On

Although much of the USCIS interview will be a routine review of your adjustment of status application, the officer has important decisions to make regarding whether you are eligible for a U.S. green card.

Determining Whether You Still Meet the Definition of Refugee

The interviewing officer will look into your files for the Form I-589 (application for asylum) you completed and submitted. You will not be expected to prove your case again (like you did either in immigration court or before an asylum officer).

But there are small risks associated with this portion of the officer's review, to do with any changes in your basic eligibility for asylum based on the legal definition of a refugee:
  • First, if the USCIS officer has become aware of new evidence demonstrating that you did not qualify for asylum when it was granted (for example, that you submitted fraudulent evidence to support your case), your asylee status could be terminated. You would be placed into removal (deportation) proceedings in immigration court.
  • Second, your asylee status could be terminated if the USCIS officer finds that changed conditions in your home country make it safe for you to return there. This can be a particular problem if, for example, a widely reported peace treaty brings a civil war to an end, or if the government declares a change in policy toward the persecuted group of which you are a member. This doesn't necessarily doom your case, if you can prove good reasons for you to continue to fear persecution; but you'll need to be ready with documents and explanations.

Determining Whether You Are Subject to a Ground of Inadmissibility

Asylees cannot be found inadmissible to the U.S. on all of the grounds that other noncitizens are. The grounds that asylees need NOT worry about include public charge (receiving need-based government assistance), labor certification (creating problems for foreign nationals who worked in the United States without proper authorization), and lack of documentation (referring to someone who entered the U.S. without immigration papers or proper documentation).

Still, asylees can be barred from a green card by other grounds of inadmissibility, including health-, criminal-, and security- or terrorism-related grounds. The officer will need to determine that you are not barred on one of these grounds before approving your application. Specifically, if the USCIS officer determines that you match the description of any of the following grounds of inadmissibility, your case becomes much more difficult:

  • controlled substance trafficking
  • espionage
  • terrorist activities
  • adverse foreign policy impact, or
  • having participated in Nazi persecution or genocide.

You will not be granted adjustment of status and will be ordered to attend removal (deportation) proceedings. If you believe you could be subject to any of these grounds, contact an immigration attorney before applying for adjustment of status.

Determining Whether You Submitted and Passed the Medical Exam

If you did not submit your medical exam report (on USCIS Form I-693) with your adjustment of status application, you will need to visit a USCIS-authorized doctor to get this done, and then take the completed exam report to your interview. The report will be considered good for two years after it is signed by a civil surgeon.

From the results of the medical exam, the USCIS officer will decide whether you are subject to any health-related grounds of inadmissibility.

Determining Whether You Have a Criminal Record

If you have had any contact with law enforcement anywhere in the world, including arrests, charges, or convictions, you will need to bring the police and/or court records with you to your interview. You should also hire an attorney to evaluate your record before you set foot in a USCIS office; you could be subject to removal from the United States.

The officer may take testimony under oath from you in your interview if concerned that you might be subject to a criminal ground of inadmissibility.

Many of the criminal grounds of inadmissibility are waivable for asylees, using USCIS Form I-602. You will need to demonstrate to the USCIS officer that humanitarian, family unity, or public interest concerns merit a waiver in your case. Bring a copy of this waiver request to your interview if you are subject to a criminal ground of inadmissibility. This, too, is best prepared with a lawyer's help.

Approval for a Green Card

If the USCIS officer conducting your interview determines that you meet all the requirements for adjustment of status, you will receive a decision in the mail soon after your interview. Your green card will arrive by mail soon after that, typically within a few weeks (though longer backups have been reported at times).

Getting Legal Help

Protecting your asylee status is important. It's worth consulting an experienced attorney, if possible, or hiring one to prepare or review your adjustment of status documents and possibly accompany you to your USCIS interview. This could be especially crucial if conditions in your country have changed or you have other reason to believe the USCIS officer will question your ongoing eligibility for asylum.

Some nonprofit organizations will provide free or low-cost attorneys to low-income applicants. Or you can use Nolo's Lawyer Directory to find an experienced immigration attorney near you.

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