How to Expedite Asylum Interview or Hearing

Applying for asylum in the United States can be frustrating, because asylum application is a complex and often lengthy process. It is important for all asylum applicants to submit all necessary documents and carefully prepare for their asylum interviews.

There are two ways you can apply for asylum: affirmative and defensive. To apply for “affirmative asylum,” you must be physically present in the United States, must apply within one year of the date of your last arrive in the United States (unless you have exceptional circumstances), and must submit your asylum application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Defensive asylum,” on the other hand, occurs when you request asylum as a defense against removal (deportation) from the United States. To apply for “defensive asylum,” you must be in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Regardless of whether you are applying for affirmative asylum or defensive asylum, USCIS notes that there is currently a delay in scheduling your asylum interview or hearing. According to the USCIS, the delay in scheduling your interview is caused by a diversion of an increasing number of asylum officers to conduct protection screening interviews for persons arriving at the border. Unfortunately, USCIS is unable to predict how long the process will take, if your asylum application is currently pending interview scheduling.

This article will help explain why your asylum (affirmative or defensive) case may be delayed, and the steps that can be taken to help move your case forward. We encourage you to talk to an experienced lawyer directly about your specific case in order to avoid any potential problems or complications.

Why is my Affirmative Asylum Case Delayed?

An affirmative asylum application is filed with a USCIS Asylum Office, if you are not in removal proceedings. According to the current rules, if the Asylum Office declines to grant an affirmative asylum application, then removal proceedings may be initiated, and your affirmative asylum application is referred to an immigration judge, who may grant or deny the application.

But no matter how committed USCIS is to processing and adjudicating every asylum application the agency receives in a timely manner, USCIS states that there is currently a delay in scheduling asylum interviews due to the agency’s increased caseload.

On December 26, 2014, the USCIS Asylum Division began prioritizing asylum applications for interview scheduling in the following categories:

  • Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or because of the needs of USCIS;
  • Applications filed by children; and
  • All other pending affirmative asylum applications in the order they were received, with oldest cases scheduled first.

According to the USCIS, if you are in the first and second categories, then your interview is scheduled promptly. USCIS notes that asylum offices are currently scheduling asylum interviews for applications pending in the third category.

USCIS also created a system, listing the interview schedule for affirmative asylum applicants in the third category. The system provides the filing dates (month and year) of most asylum applications scheduled for local interviews during that particular month. The system also provides asylum applicants in the third category with an estimate for when they might expect their interviews to be scheduled. The estimates are based on interviews scheduled during the listed month and future movement that will be determined by each asylum office’s caseload and resources. For example, in January 2017, the Arlington Asylum Office scheduled interviews for applications filed in January 2014. To learn more, please visit USCIS Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin.

If you need to speed up the processing of your case, you can try filing an “expedited interview request” with the asylum office where your case is pending. Usually, there have to be compelling circumstances for such request to be granted, including dependents (spouse or children) in the country of feared persecution or serious medical issues.

Most asylum offices have the option for asylum applicants to file an expedited interview request. Some asylum offices, including Arlington Asylum Office, have specific request forms that need to be filled out, while others accept requests in the form of a simple email. For your request to be successful, you should provide documents to show why you need an expedited interview. If your request is granted, you may receive an email and/or a notification in the mail scheduling your interview.

Some asylum offices, including Arlington Asylum Office, also have “short notice lists,” where they put the names of asylum applicants who are willing to be scheduled for interviews on a short notice, if another applicant requests to reschedule a previously scheduled interview. Arlington Asylum Office has a request form that needs to be completed if you would like to be added to the short notice list. There are no specific requirements you need to meet for the short notice list other than be willing to be scheduled for an interview on a short notice. Even after you are added to the short notice list, there is no guarantee of a speedier interview. Months can pass with no action from the asylum office before you are offered a short notice interview.

The short notice list allows asylum offices to optimize their resources by filling in empty interview slots, while also helping move forward cases that would have been otherwise pending for years without an interview. However, the “catch” is that your interview can be scheduled less than a week in advance, as opposed to at least three weeks’ notice usually given under the normal scheduling procedure. Therefore, if you are on the short notice list, it is important to keep collecting all additional documents for your case (if any), so that you can submit them to the asylum office promptly in time for your interview.

My Individual Hearing Has Been Delayed for Years. Is That Normal?  

If USCIS Asylum Office does not approve your asylum application, your case will be referred to an immigration court having jurisdiction over your place of residence. Your case may also be in immigration court, if you are filing a defensive asylum application. A defensive asylum application is filed with the immigration court when you are already in removal proceedings. Defensive asylum applications are normally filed in open court at a master calendar hearing or at the clerk’s window. At your master calendar hearing, the court accepts pleadings and schedules your individual hearing. Due to the current delays, your individual hearing may be scheduled for a date that is as far as five years away from your master hearing.

If your asylum case in immigration court has been delayed for years, you probably wonder whether the waiting period is normal. Immigration experts note that cases pending with immigration courts can be extended out to several years. So, if your individual hearing has been delayed for years, although that may be frustrating for you, that is relatively normal.

According to the Immigration Court Practice Manual, the immigration court operates an asylum adjudications clock which measures the length of time an asylum application has been pending for each asylum applicant in removal proceedings. The asylum clock tracks the number of days elapsed since the application was filed, not including any delays requested or caused by the asylum applicant and ending with the final administrative adjudication of the application. This period also does not include administrative appeal or remand, which makes the delay even longer. For more information, please see our related article about Asylum Clock.

If you would like to speed up your asylum case, you or your attorney can file a motion to expedite your hearing and request your individual hearing to be re-scheduled for a date sooner than you are currently scheduled. In your motion, you or your attorney will need to explain why your case merits an earlier hearing date. A good attorney plays a vital important role in the asylum process. For more information on how to submit all necessary documents, please see our related article, Do I Need a Lawyer for My Asylum Case?

It is important to work with a competent and experienced immigration lawyer in the United States as early as possible to avoid potential problems and to plan the best immigration strategy for you and your family. Attorneys at I.S. Law Firm have provided immigration help to many immigrants and their families, including representation in affirmative and defensive asylum applications. To learn more about our services and for consultation, please contact us at (703) 527-1779 or via e-mail: [email protected].