By Asylum Immigration Attorney Ruby L. Powers
I am a Board Certified Immigration attorney and have practiced solely immigration law for over nine years with a constant case load of asylum cases. Having worked on affirmative and defensive asylum since being a law student in the immigration law clinic and many years later, I have held a high approval rate for clients from over 18 countries. My firm has clients all over the United States and my associates and I travel to asylum offices nationwide.
Affirmative Asylum processing times have always varied from office to office and depending on the volume and demand. Several years ago, interviews only took three or four months and clients had a decision before they were even eligible for work authorization.
In the United States, depending on where the Asylum seeker is living, it will determine which Asylum office will have jurisdiction or authority to decide an asylum case. A great resource is the Asylum Office Locator on the USCIS website.
Another important factor is if the application is affirmative or defensive. Affirmative Asylum is held with an asylum officer at an asylum office or sub-office or on a circuit ride. The interview is often held in an office space with one officer, the asylum applicant as well as their attorney and interpreter, if needed. Defensive Asylum is when a person is under immigration court jurisdiction and applying as a form of relief. This form of asylum can be more challenging to obtain since you are not only having to prove your case before the immigration judge in immigration court but also would have to overcome any opposition by the trial attorney regarding the merits of the case.
It is important to note in affirmative asylum processing, waiting for the interview is one part of the process but waiting for the decision afterwards can depend on many factors including the office, the country, the facts of the case, and security clearances. Many applicants focus only on the interview wait and must realize the decision can take a while as well.
To give many asylum seekers an idea of how long the process it taking for an interview, I wanted to provide the following information from my experience. My firm has experienced a higher volume of asylum case work this year and I have a lot of information to share:
There are three processing times for affirmative asylum cases in the United States: regular processing, call in request and expedited request.
- Regular Asylum Processing: Depending on the asylum office, the regular asylum processing times are posted on the USCIS website called Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin. This bulletin is not 100% accurate but does give a better guide to the processing times at the different offices. It has only been in use the last couple of years. For example, it shows that in the Houston office (which covers the states of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma), is taking a little over 3 years for an interview. In the New Orleans office, they are taking less than two and a half years.
- Call In Lists: From my experience working with or contacting at least 5 asylum offices, each office has a call up list process. This list is basically on the idea if an asylum applicant were to cancel or reschedule their long-awaited asylum interview; the office would like to fill the spot. Many asylum applicants are eagerly awaiting their interview day so they notify the office that they are willing to be called up if an open interview appointment comes up. This can take many different forms including being given only a couple days’ notice to three weeks’ notice.
As my office is only 25 minutes to the Houston Asylum office, I am comfortable for my Houston-based clients to be on the Call In list. I recently had less than 15 minutes to decide if my client and I could travel to a third state and be ready for the interview in less than 6 day from the call. We decided to take the appointment, we prepared intensely with little time, and we both traveled long distances for the interview and were able to get an approval not very long afterwards!
In Houston, they ask that the person wait one year after filing before asking to be placed on the Call in List. In my experience, I don’t see that as the requirement for the other offices but it good to check with the office you will be working with.
- Expedited Requests: If an asylum seekers has an extreme life or death emergency or matter for themselves or their immediate family (spouse and children who qualify as derivatives on their case), whether it be in the US or in another country, they can request an expedited interview. Each office may have a different process but it looks the same, you make the request in writing with evidence to support the expedite claim. After submission, the asylum seeker or their attorney can follow up as well. In my experience for my clients, we have received interviews within three weeks for all the expedite requests I have made. Again, these requests should not be made lightly as it is a serious matter.
In closing, it is important to be prepared. I have written other articles on asylum I list below. If you are an asylum seeker without an attorney, I highly suggest you consult with an experienced asylum attorney before your interview. You might have little time to prepare once you receive your interview notice after waiting a long time. Research shows that an asylum applicant with an attorney has a better chance of approval than without an attorney. But please choose your attorney wisely as not all immigration attorney s have experience with asylum. Your asylum results can be greatly impacted by doing your best in preparing, choosing the right attorney, and being ready for your interview day.