This guide focuses on the affirmative asylum process which means a person is applying for asylum at their local asylum office in the U.S. as opposed to applying defensively in immigration court proceedings. To complete this process several steps must be satisfied as discussed herein.
Basic Asylum Definition
The first order of business is to determine if one is eligible for asylum. To do this lets consider the regulatory language. Note that each of the requirements herein requires additional consideration and focus as they are not easily satisfied:
A refugee is "any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." INA ? 101(a)(42)(A).
Preparing Form I-589
If you and your attorney have decided your case is suitable for asylum then you will need to prepare Form I-589 which is available on the USCIS website along with instructions. This form requests basic background information about the asylum applicant including former addresses, employment, family information, and then questions related to the asylum claim itself. Note that many of the asylum related questions can be and should be answered and further detailed in a declaration from the asylum applicant.
Along with Form I-589 and the asylum applicant's statement, explaining what happened in their home country and why they are applying for asylum, it is very important to provide as much supporting evidence as possible. Such supporting materials are needed to help verify that the information provided by the asylum applicant is in fact true and also to help educate the asylum officer on particular issues occurring in the applicant's home country. Examples of supporting documentation include birth records, marriage records, passport copies, country reports, medical records, newspaper articles, etc.
One of the most important parts of an asylum application is proper preparation for the asylum interview which will be scheduled after your asylum application (Form I-589 and supporting documents) are filed with USCIS. Practice is very important as asylum applicants are often very nervous once in the actual interview and something these nerves and fear of the unknown can cause poor performance at the asylum interview. Accordingly, it is highly recommended to work with an experienced immigration law firm with whom you can do several practice interviews so as not to be caught unaware of certain issues that may be addressed in the asylum interview.
On the day of your asylum interview you will go to your local asylum office, check in, be fingerprinted (this will be the second time you have fingerprints done as you will also have a fingerprint notice to complete before your interview date) and have a picture taken. Then you will likely have to wait for a while before being called by your asylum officer. The interviews take place in the asylum officer's office where you, the officer, your interpreted (if needed), and your attorney will be present. The asylum officer will also call in a monitor on the telephone in most cases to listen in and make sure that everything is interpreted correctly if an interpreter is needed. Please note that the asylum office will not provide an interpreter so you must take one yourself. The interviews tend to last between 2-3 hours after which you will be given a notice to return to the asylum office in approximately two weeks usually to pick up your decision.
After a couple of weeks normally, you will be allowed to go pick up your decision. Your case will either be approved, referred to immigration court or you will receive an intent to deny notice. If you are out of visa status at that time and your case is not approved then you will be sent to immigration court and have a master calendar date on which you must appear at the court indicated on the form. It is very advisable that you have an attorney go to court with you if that is the outcome of your case as you can apply for relief from removal via asylum and other forms of relief. If you are in status you will receive an intent to deny notice which will give you an opportunity to respond to the issues raised by the asylum officer.
Seek Immigration Counsel
The asylum process is very complex and due to the importance of the process it is highly advisable for you to obtain immigration advice and assistance throughout the process from an experienced immigration law firm in your local area.
Additional resources provided by the author
Additional asylum information can be found at the USCIS website provided below.