The immigration interview process can be a rather daunting experience for many clients. Therefore it’s very understandable if you’re anxious about your interview because the decision made by a sole officer can potentially have a huge impact on your future.
That said, we’ve compiled a few tips and pieces of advice to get you through the interview process. Remember, it’s the job of the officer in charge of the interview to detect fraud; thus even a small lie can potentially have an extremely negative impact on your case. Take a deep breath, relax, and prepare yourself by reading our step-by-step guide on what to expect at a meeting with the immigration officer.
Here are some of the most commonly useful tips for interviews. Note that interviews do not generally follow a pre-set pattern. They are done on a case-by-case basis so it’s difficult to predict an exact scenario. Based on my personal experience in the practice of immigration and nationality laws, I will cover many issues in this article.
Preparation, Preparation and Preparation
Despite the fact that you are not going to war and the immigration officer is not your enemy, the interview process can be seen as a highly stressful “battle.” The best thing you can do to ensure a successful interview is to adequately prepare yourself for the interview. In order for you to be prepared, you will need to know what the immigration officer is looking for in your file. Thus the first rule is to know your file and your facts.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Although you may have hired an attorney to prepare your case, the attorney is just presenting what you have provided to him/her as information. It is important you review every single page of all of your applications including supporting documents such as affidavits, declarations, photos, etc.
- Have your documents ready to be submitted at any interview. We recommend that you have a folder with your original documents and a copy of those originals. You do not want to be confused at the interview. Note that even if you have submitted some documents, you still want to have a copy in case any documents were lost. Remember, making it easier on the officer, will in turn make it easier on you.
- Read a little about the law that governs your case. For example in an asylum case, the officer may be looking for “fear of persecution.” By reading about the law, you will be able to have a better understanding of where the interviewer’s questions are heading.
- If you do not speak English very well, you may want to have a certified translator present during your interview. Note that a translator has to be neutral. The translator cannot interpret what you are saying. He/she can only translate.
- Be on time for your interview. It is recommended that you arrive at your interview at least 30 minutes before the scheduled time. Most locations are heavily secured and may require you to go through a security check which can potentially delay your prompt arrival.
- Do not bring any weapons, sharp objects, or any harmful objects with you.
- Bring every document which the interview letter requests of you (if the letter specifies such docs). If you are missing some of the document(s), it is highly recommended that you let your attorney know in advance.
- Bring the original interview letter, your IDs, passport(s), and all other relevant documents.
- If you feel you have issues or feel apprehensive, have an attorney handle your case. A good attorney will be present at the interview and can intervene in your favor. In addition, the attorney can prevent possible abuses or be a witness to any potential abuses.
Be Honest and Tell the Truth!
While being in an apprehensive situation or under stress, some people will lie hoping that it will make them win the case. The truth is that lies often get you in more trouble that you might think.
It is important that you are candid both with your attorney and your immigration officer. Note lying to the immigration services is a crime and it often backfires on the clients. If you do not remember something do not make up an answer. You are allowed to say that you do not remember.
Answer the question asked
Remember, anything you say can be used against you! Unfortunately in many situations, people tend to speak too much or fail to answer the question. For example if you were asked “What time did you wake up?” Someone might say: “Well, I had breakfast at 9, showered at 8, therefore I woke up at 7 am.” This is a simple example in which the client has volunteered unsolicited information. The simple answer should have been "I woke up at 7 am." Note that the officers are trained to “feed on your answers” and detect fraud. Too much information can easily distract the officer from their main goal of evaluating whether or not you deserve to obtain immigration benefits.
Each culture has different rules and customs in regards to proper dress attire. As per my own personal experience, conservative clothing is always welcome. However, always make sure that you are wearing a comfortable outfit. Some interviews can last for hours and you do not want to be uncomfortable.
Never Disrespect the Immigration Officer
Immigration officers are usually respectful and sensitive to people’s cultures and way of thinking. However, in rare cases you may be faced with a very “strict” immigration officer. Under such circumstances the only advice I have for you is to be patient and to not under any circumstances lose your temper. If you have an attorney present, any abuse can be documented and reported. Therefore, do not disrespect the immigration officer, no matter what!
Do not be scared
While the interview process can result in an arrest or in a denial, you are not going to be “tortured" or subjected to unnecessary harm. Keep your composure and do not let your fear take over the interview. Remember you can stop the interview at any time. If you have any type of criminal issues, you will want an immigration lawyer to review the case before you undertake an interview. I highly recommend having a good and reliable immigration lawyer by your side.
Have an attorney to help!
An attorney is not a magician. Therefore, do not ask your attorney what they can do for you, instead ask what you can do for your attorney so that the attorney can better help you. Remember an attorney is not only your counsel but also an officer of the court. He needs to be candid and truthful and in return you must be truthful to him or her. It is imperative that you tell your attorney the truth and not omit any information that can potentially have an impact on your case. The attorney is not allowed to disclose any privileged information, however, an attorney cannot continue representation if at any point, the client is trying to mislead or lie to the authorities. Attorneys can help with the following issues:
- Prepare your documents with due diligence
- Making sure that any anticipated issues are handled appropriately
- Prepare you for your interview
- Be by your side at the interview to avoid and/or document abuses
- Be a witness in case of abuses
- Prevent potential mishaps at an interview.
It is important to remember that each immigration interview is different. Being adequately prepared and having a good attorney on your side can make a huge difference. Note that this is not a complete comprehensive guide to the interview process. It is highly recommended that you have a thorough meeting with your attorney before attending any interview with an immigration officer.
The interview process is part and parcel of obtaining your non immigrant visa, your permanent residence, or your citizenship. It would be foolhardy to assume that there may not be an interview in one's case. Therefore preparing oneself for the interview process can go a long way towards determining a person’s success. Remember, the interview is one of the few instances in the immigration process in which you will have a chance to show the immigration authorities who you are as a person rather than as a collection of documents, forms, and other paper work. So, prepare yourself well, don't lie to the officer, stay calm, answer the questions exactly as they are asked, keep your files organized, and seek the counsel of an experienced attorney. Follow these simple steps and you'll do well.
The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. No recipients of content from this article, clients or otherwise, should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in the site without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient's state. Shah Peerally is the managing attorney for Shah Peerally Peerally Law Group located in Newark CA.