up button arrow

How to Prepare for a US Asylum Interview 

An applicant for refugee status must undergo an asylum interview before they can be granted a permanent stay in the United States (US). An Asylum Interview presents an opportunity for a US immigration official to assess the credibility of the story of an asylum seeker and to determine whether they qualify for protection under US immigration law. A person who has a 'credible fear' of persecution in the home country and seeks to avoid removal from the US must undergo an asylum interview. To prove credible fear, an individual must show that they have suffered or that there is a significant possibility of persecution in the home country on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 

A sanctuary seeker has to make adequate preparations before the interview to guard against eventualities that may be detrimental to their case. 

The immigration official examines the applicant’s story to determine the veracity of their claims as well as their eligibility for asylum. It is important for the asylum seeker to prepare in advance of their interview, to make a convincing case.

How do I Prepare for an Asylum Interview?

There are important steps an asylum seeker may take in order to be ready for their asylum interview. These steps may be peculiar to the circumstances of each case. There are, however, some steps that are helpful to most asylum seekers. To adequately prepare for an asylum interview, a refugee seeker must take note of the following: 

  1. Scheduling: Pay attention to instructions from the Asylum Office, including rules on time, procedure, and documents. Confirm the date and time for the interview and be in touch to keep track of any developments in scheduling and to ensure punctuality. It may also be helpful to locate the asylum office before the interview date. 
  2. Obtaining relevant documents: The Asylum Office will provide a list of documents requested for the interview. Some of these documents may be in the personal possession of the applicants, while others may be in the consulates of the home countries. It will be necessary to acquire all of the documents before the date of the interview. 
  3. Sorting paperwork: Be certain that paperwork is properly organized and can be easily sorted. It may be helpful to arrange the documents in an order that makes them easy to peruse. If documents are in a foreign language, endeavor to get translated copies. Make sure to bring along such important documents as; birth certificates, marriage certificates, travel documents, and hard copies of the asylum application. 
  4. Filling out forms: Be as honest as possible when filling out the application. Avoid making embellishments or giving false details in the application. It is important to take care that only verifiable and accurate information is supplied. Spurious claims, no matter how minor may stoke distrust in the mind of the interviewer. 
  5. Review documentation: It is advisable to constantly review applications in order to anticipate likely questions and ensure details are up to date. Familiarity with information in the application is vital to avoid injuring the asylum seeker's case. It may also be important to go over some of the information with an attorney to determine the strength of information supplied to the asylum officer. A lawyer can help with preparing and submitting the application. It is always safer to have them prepare the application due to the sensitivity of the contents. Any detail contained in the application can be used against the applicant later. In addition, it may be useful to write down details like names and addresses that are elusive in order not to forget. 
  6. Rehearse beforehand: Role-playing can be very vital, especially for individuals who have been persecuted in their home countries and have a hard time retelling their stories. Practice recounting such harrowing experiences in order to have a better chance of convincing the interviewer. If an interpreter is to be brought along, it's best to rehearse with them with someone else playing the role of the asylum officer and asking likely questions. Also, make sure to prepare a closing statement for the end of the interview if no attorneys will be present during the session. 

Asylum Interviews Dos and Don'ts

During the interview and afterward, it may be helpful for applicants to do all or any of the following as applicable to the specific case: 

  • Be honest: Interviewing officers can discern when an applicant is being dishonest. The interviewee should endeavor not to exaggerate the details of the story. When unable to remember details vividly, it is helpful to disclose this rather than invent stories. 
  • Pay close attention to details: the asylum officer may ask for clarifications on unclear issues. For example, the officer may ask for further information on incidents referenced. The interviewee should provide accurate details here, including names, addresses, and dates that may not have been provided in the application. 
  • Ask for questions to be repeated: It is possible that the interviewer may speak quickly or have a strange accent. The applicant is expected to ask for clarification to questions before giving answers. The latter must make sure that they perfectly understand the question before supplying an answer. It is not inappropriate in interviews like this as it is not to test English comprehension but rather to determine the qualification of the applicant for asylum. 
  • Follow health guidelines: Persons may be asked to wear a face mask or maintain social distancing. It is important to closely follow these instructions in order to ensure the safety of the participants in the interview. 
  • Maintain correspondence: After the interview, applicants may receive decisions in the mail when they are in lawful status (still eligible to remain in the US) or may be asked to return to the asylum office to pick up their decisions. In any case, the applicant must pay attention to confirm the date and any other developments after the interview. 

On the other hand, it is important to avoid doing any of the following during or after the interview: 

  • Do not be confrontational: It is possible that an asylum candidate may become nettled during the interview because of the line of questioning. They may find the line of questioning offensive or condescending. It is important to try to be patient and not adversarial to avoid disrupting the interview. If there are claims the interviewer disagrees with, it is advisable for the applicant to politely declare reservations and to courteously resolve misconceptions. 
  • Do not slouch: Good body language and composure help communicate confidence and credibility to the interviewer. It is imperative to maintain a good body posture at all times and to avoid actions like leaning on the officer's desk because this is considered inappropriate. 
  • Avoid distractions: phones and other devices should be switched off and put away during the interview to avoid interruptions to the session. Try to maintain decorum and not continuously interrupt the interviewer while they are speaking. 

How Long does an Asylum Interview Take?

An Asylum Interview should typically span an hour, but the time may be varied depending on the specific circumstances of each case. The entire purpose of the interview process is for the officer to determine the legitimacy of the interviewee's claim for asylum benefits. It may be longer to give the interviewee ample time to convince the officer of credible fear by providing facts and details which describe the living conditions to which the applicant was subjected in their home country. It may, on the other hand, be shorter when the case is straightforward and noncomplex. 

What to Expect During an Asylum Interview

An asylum seeker, during the interview, can expect to be asked questions to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture upon return to their home country. The first step during the interview is taking an oath, to tell the truth. Afterward, the asylum seeker will be grilled by the officer on questions about details contained in the asylum application. It is to be expected that the officer would have thoroughly examined the application prior to the interview to find out any discrepancies in the application. The asylum seeker will also be given a chance to narrate their experiences, and this will also be subject to questioning. The asylum officer will evaluate three things to determine whether a person has an eligible claim: 

  • Whether they meet the definition of a refugee contained in Section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)
  • Whether there are any existing bars to qualification for asylum e.g., a previous conviction for a serious crime
  • Whether the applicant has a credible fear.

What Questions are Asked in an Asylum Interview?

Questions to be asked in an asylum interview depend on the type of asylum, either Affirmative asylum or Defensive Asylum. Although many of the questions to be asked in both are biographical questions and may be essentially aimed at the same goal - determining whether the asylee has a credible fear, there may be a few different questions. Some of the questions that may be asked in an affirmative asylum interview include: 

  • Who are you, and where are you from? (this may also be asked during the defensive asylum process) 
  • What are the reasons for which you may be persecuted in your home country? 
  • Have you ever committed a serious crime? 
  • Have you ever been involved in persecution or terroristic acts? 
  • Do you have any evidence of persecution or of being physically harmed? 

A defensive asylum process is a court hearing, so a respondent can expect questions from their lawyer, as well as the immigration judge and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  trial attorney. These questions may be asked during a defensive asylum process: 

  • Why do you think you should be allowed to remain in the US? 
  • Did you enter the US using false documents? 
  • Why did you enter into (or remain) in the US illegally? 
  • Can you be returned to another safe country? 

Notably, the questions in a defensive asylum process may come off as hostile and adversarial because the respondents here are usually not of lawful status in the US. 

What are the Types of Asylum in the United States?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) stipulates that there are two primary ways of obtaining asylum in the US. They are; 

  1. Affirmative Asylum: This process is initiated by the asylum candidate. It only applies to asylees who are physically present in the US regardless of how they arrived or their current immigration status. This application should be made within one year of their last arrival in the US by submitting a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, to USCIS. An asylee can live in the US during the pendency of their application before the USCIS, and when this is denied, they may remain in the US while the case is pending before the immigration judge. Additionally, a person must not be undergoing any removal proceedings to be eligible for affirmative asylum. An asylum candidate may also apply for their spouse or unmarried children (not older than 21).

  2. Defensive Asylum: This pathway to asylum is through the immigration courts. A Notice to Appear will be issued here for the applicant to be referred to an immigration judge with the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). The case here is conducted afresh, and the decision from the judge is independent of the USCIS decision. It only applies to candidates whose application for affirmative asylum has been denied and candidates who have been placed in removal proceedings - it is a final defense against deportation. Notably, the burden of proof is upon the respondent to show that there is credible fear of persecution upon removal to their home country. The services of an attorney are very important for candidates under the defensive asylum process. 

What if the Asylum Officer Believes You Don’t Have a Credible Fear?

Where the Asylum officer doubts that the sanctuary seeker has a credible fear of persecution in their home country, the latter may request a review with an immigration judge. Failure to request a review may make the applicant liable to be removed from the US. This will also be the consequence where the immigration judge affirms the negative credible fear determination. This finding by an immigration judge is not subject to any further review except on appeal in some cases. It is up to the applicant to convince the immigration judge that they are eligible for asylum, and it may be helpful to have an attorney in this instance. 

What are the Major Differences Between Affirmative and Defensive Asylum?

These are some of the significant differences between Affirmative and Defensive Asylum: 

  • While affirmative asylum is at the instance of the asylee, defensive asylum is instituted against a person who is liable to be removed from the US. Such a person is placed before an immigration judge, and they would have to show cause as to why they should not be removed from the US. 

  • The procedure under both categories is different. While an applicant under Affirmative asylum is required to submit a Form I-589 and may be able to apply more than once, an asylee under defensive asylum is referred to an immigration judge by an asylum officer through a Notice to Appear or other means, and a decision here can only be heard on an appeal to a Board of Immigration Appeals and other higher courts. 

  • The asylum interview is usually nonadversarial as the officer is only interested in determining whether the applicant qualifies to be granted asylum. On the other hand, a defensive asylum is adversarial as the immigration judge, as well as the DHS trial attorney, will ask questions to determine that the applicant is liable to be removed. The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish their claim for asylum. 

  • The level of control by the applicant is more significant under the affirmative process. They are free to bring their own interpreter to the interview, for example. Under the other category, however, the court provides a qualified interpreter, and a lawyer may also be provided for a respondent who cannot afford one. 

What if Asylum is Denied?

The implication of an asylum denial may vary depending on the status of the asylum seeker at the time. An asylum applicant may either be in lawful or unlawful status. A person in lawful status is one whose travel documents are still valid and has a right to remain in the US, while an individual in unlawful status has no right to be in the US (e.g., a holder of an expired visa). 

An applicant in unlawful status, upon being denied asylum, will be referred to an immigration judge. Such a person would usually be furnished with a Notice to Appear (Form I-862). A notice to appear is the first step in removal proceedings against an individual. It instructs the recipient to appear before an immigration judge and includes the charges against them as well as the date and place of the court hearing. A failure to appear in court as directed may be fatal as the court may order a removal. 

The asylum applicant may renew the asylum application before the immigration judge on the hearing date. It will be helpful for an applicant here in the state of Texas to hire an attorney who would be better suited to represent the applicant in the hearing. The decision after the hearing may be given orally by the judge or sent in writing soon after. An unfavorable decision may be appealed against, and this further grounds the need for an immigration lawyer. 

An asylum applicant who was already in legal status would be returned to the status quo before the application. In this case, the applicant will be mailed a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) the asylum claim. There will be 16 days to respond on either why the claim should be granted or to submit new evidence to support the claim, or both. If none of these convince the officer or where the applicant fails to respond to the NOID, a final denial may be given. 

Such a person may reapply for asylum after such a denial as long as they are still in lawful status. However, the burden of proof may be higher as they would have to explain what went wrong with the initial application. 

In any of both cases, a Texas attorney could give legal advice on the best response to a denial of an asylum application and even represent a client in court as may be appropriate. 

Need Professional Help? Talk to an Asylum Attorney

When seeking asylum, it is advisable to talk to a skilled, knowledgeable, and empathetic Asylum Attorney. They are qualified to handle all asylum-related matters, whether Affirmative or Defensive asylum. An asylum attorney has knowledge of asylum-related court cases in Texas as well as supplementary information that will bolster an asylum application. Such lawyers represent their clients in court and give helpful legal advice. 

To be eligible to represent an asylee, a lawyer must be qualified to practice law as well as a member of good standing in the highest bar in any state in the US and not specifically Texas because immigration law is federal law. Additionally, they are expected to have gained substantial experience in immigration law, either practicing in an immigration law firm or in sole practice. While there is no specific certification to qualify as an immigration attorney, the state of Texas now offers specialization in immigration law through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization

The attorney would ask the asylum seeker questions about the material conditions of their home country to determine eligibility for asylum. The asylum seeker, on the other hand, should inquire about work experience and previous cases handled by the attorney to ensure that the latter is qualified to handle their case. Particularly, the asylee should ask to see the attorney's current licensing document to verify that they are eligible to practice law. 

An asylum lawyer in Texas may be contacted through the Texas State Legal Bar, which offers referral services through the Lawyer Referral & Information Service (LRIS). Another option is the Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline which is staffed with volunteer attorneys to answer immigration law questions and provide referrals for legal services. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) also provides a list of pro bono legal service providers for each state, including Texas.