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