Last week, I wrote about my suggestions for a new Asylum Office website. In that post, I gave short shrift to a new development: For affirmative asylum applicants, it is now possible to check your asylum case online at the USCIS website. This development is actually pretty significant, and will be particularly helpful for those who set up an account with USCIS in order to receive automatic case updates.

Here's how it works: If you filed affirmatively for asylum--meaning, you filed a case with the Asylum Office--you should have received a receipt with an Alien number (a nine-digit number usually starting with 0 or 2) and a receipt number (three letters followed by a 10-digit number; the first letter is "Z"). You can now enter the receipt number into the USCIS Check Case Status web page and obtain information about your case.

I've plugged in several of my clients' receipt numbers to get an idea of how the system works. After you enter the receipt number, you will receive a message about your case. The messages I saw have between one and four paragraphs, depending on the stage of the case.

The first paragraph gives information about the status of the case. This is discussed more below.

The second and third paragraphs of the message discuss the "Asylum Clock" and eligibility for an employment authorization document or EAD. In short, once an asylum case is received, the "Clock" starts. After the Clock reaches 150 days, a person may apply for an EAD, but the Clock must reach 180 days in order for USCIS to actually issue the EAD. If a person delays her case (by skipping an appointment, for example), it could cause the Clock to stop. Buried in the middle of the second paragraph is the number of days that have elapsed on your Asylum Clock and a statement about whether your Clock is still running. This is quite helpful, as it is easy to know when to apply for your EAD (on or after day 150, assuming the Clock is still running). One quibble, if I may: It would be nice to see this information more prominently displayed, as it is kind-of hidden in an otherwise boilerplate paragraph.

The final paragraph contains information about what to do if you move (file form AR-11).

There are different messages generated, depending on the status of the case. After the case is filed and received, the message reads, "The next step in your application is an in-person interview. Once your interview is scheduled, you will receive an interview notice in the mail and this case status will change. If you have an attorney or accredited representative on file, this individual will also receive a copy of the interview notice in the mail." Another quibble: This message appears even if the biometrics (fingerprint and photo) appointment letter has been mailed out. In other words, at least for the case I checked, the system does not indicate that a biometrics letter was sent. Hopefully, USCIS will include this information as it continues to update the online system.

Once the interview is scheduled, the message states, "Your interview has been scheduled. You will receive an interview notice at the mailing address we have on file. If you have listed family members as dependents on your application, you must bring them to your interview. If you cannot communicate effectively in English, you must bring an interpreter. If you have an attorney or accredited representative and come without that representative, we will ask you to sign a form stating you agree to be interviewed without that representative present." Further down the page, the message indicates that you can reschedule the interview. However, there is no information about how to contact the Asylum Office to reschedule. Such information would be helpful, even if it is only a link to the (woefully inadequate) Asylum Office website (which also does not tell you how to reschedule an appointment). By the way, it seems that the interview message is the same whether it is a first interview or a rescheduled interview.

If the interview has taken place, but there is not yet a decision, the message states, "You completed your interview with USCIS. The time it takes for USCIS to give you a decision after completion of an interview may vary. An officer told you at the end of your interview if you needed to return to the office to pick-up your decision on a specific/scheduled date, or if your decision would be mailed to you." This same message seems to appear regardless of how long the decision has been pending. For example, I checked one of my long-delayed cases (filed over five years ago!). I suspect that the case is being held up due to a TRIG (Terrorism Related Inadmissibility Grounds) bar--the client was kidnapped and paid money to the bad guys to get released (this is an example of how the TRIG bar treats the victims of terrorism as if they were terrorists). The client was interviewed (about four years ago), but there is still no decision. For this client, I received the same Case Status message as for a client who was interviewed three months ago (and who does not have any TRIG issues).

Once a decision has been made, the message reads, "We reached a decision in your case. You should expect to receive the decision in the mail shortly. You must follow the instructions in your decision letter as to what you should do next." If the decision was picked up, the message reads, "We reached a decision in your application. You recently picked up this decision at our office. You must follow the instructions in your decision letter as to what you should do next." Whether the case was granted, denied or referred to Immigration Court, the message was basically the same. In other words, you cannot determine the outcome of the case based on the online message.

I did not have any cases with a pending Notice of Intent to Deny, so I do not know if the online system indicates whether such a letter has been mailed out. I hope it does, as applicant's only have 16 days to respond to a NOID, so the earlier they know about it, the better.

I also checked an application that was closed. The message states, "We closed your application and notified you of the reason in the decision letter we mailed to the address we have on file for you. You must contact the office that has been handling your application if you believe your application should not have been closed." Such a message means that the case is no longer with the Asylum Office. In our client's case, the person had previously been before an Immigration Judge, and the Asylum Office determined that it did not have jurisdiction.

Probably the best part about the new system is that you can set up an account with USCIS so that you receive automatic updates by email or text message. In this way, you will know when to expect your interview notice or decision. And here's a bonus: If you sign up for Informed Delivery with the U.S. Post Office, you will get a scan of all mail coming to your house, so you will know exactly when your notifications (and all your other mail) are arriving. Informed Delivery is not available everywhere, but you can check the USPS website to see whether you are eligible.

Finally, one last issue: The USCIS website is only in English. There are a limited number of messages that appear when you check your receipt, and so it really shouldn't be that burdensome to create messages in other languages (Spanish being the most obvious). I am not sure that this is under consideration, but it would be very helpful.

So that's about it. The new system is a good start, especially if you get automatic updates, but it's not a substitute for a more informative Asylum Office website, as I discussed last week. Hopefully, USCIS will continue to improve it's online presence, and continue to improve the process for asylum seekers and everyone else in the system.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.