So, you've decided to file for asylum. Let's talk about what happens on your journey as an affirmative asylum seeker.

Once you mail in the I-589 form, you should receive a receipt in about three or four weeks (though lately, this has been taking longer). After that, you and any dependent family members will be scheduled for a biometric appointment, where the government will take your fingerprints and your photo. For the biometric appointment, each person should bring their appointment letter and a photo ID, usually a passport.

Next, you will have an interview. Some Asylum Offices are faster than others, so in some cases, you will only wait a few weeks or months for your interview; in other cases, you may wait years. If you do not receive an interview within about 90 days of filing, you can be pretty confident that your case is in the backlog. Currently, there are well over 300,000 cases in the affirmative asylum backlog, and most new cases seem to end up in the backlog.

Why does one applicant land in the backlog while another receives an interview relatively quickly? My understanding from talking to my local Asylum Office Director is that it is completely dependent on luck. It does not matter what country you come from, or how strong your case is. It does not matter whether or not you have a lawyer. The Asylum Office staff determines how many interview slots they have for a given day, and a computer randomly chooses which cases, from the pool of newly-filed LIFO cases, will be interviewed.

If you end up in the backlog, how long will you wait? No one knows. The government does not know. The people working at the Asylum Office do not know. And I certainly don't know. The basic reason for the backlog is that there are too many asylum cases and too few Asylum Officers. The Asylum Division has been trying to "staff up" for some time, and they are having some success. As more Officers come online, we might see progress on the backlog. Also, as you may have heard, the Trump Administration is working overtime to block asylum seekers from coming to the U.S. If there are fewer asylum seekers, we could also see progress on the backlog. Despite all this effort, the backlog continues to grow.

If your case falls into the backlog, there are a few things you can do. You can try to expedite the case. This is not easy, and even people with a strong reason to expedite are often rejected. The best reasons to expedite are where the applicant has a health problem or there is family separation, especially if the family members are unsafe. Even if you do not have a strong reason to expedite, you can still try--once in a while, applicants get lucky. Also, some offices have a short list. This is usually a long list of people who have agreed to accept an interview on short notice if there happens to be an opening. Putting your name on the short list will not necessarily get you a faster interview, but it might. You can contact your local office to find out whether they have a short list. If you put your name on the short list, make sure that all the evidence is submitted, so you are ready to go in case you get called. Attempting to expedite or put your name on the short list will never make your case slower--either it will be faster or there will be no effect.

If you do not get an interview, or if you do get an interview and there is no decision, you may be eligible for an employment authorization document ("EAD"), which allows you to work legally in the United States. You cannot file for your EAD immediately. Instead, you have to wait 150 days after the I-589 form is received by the government (the "received" date is listed on your receipt). Do not file before the 150th day, or the EAD application could be rejected as filed too early. Also, if you cause a delay in your case (by missing a government appointment, for example), or if you have certain criminal convictions, you may be ineligible for the EAD. Check the EAD instructions for more information. If you do not have an EAD, you cannot work lawfully in the U.S. Even the receipt for the initial EAD does not allow you to work. People who work unlawfully are not precluded from receiving asylum, but unauthorized employment could block you from other immigration benefits. When you file for the EAD, you can request a Social Security card on the same form.

Once you have an EAD, it is valid for two years. You can renew an expiring EAD up to 180 days before the old card expires. When you receive your receipt to renew, your old EAD will be extended by 180 days. Renewals can take a while, so it is a good idea to file the renewal soon after you are eligible.

While your case is pending, you can apply for Advance Parole ("AP"), so you can travel outside the United States and return. USCIS does not always approve AP, and sometimes, they only grant it for a short period of time, but if you have it, it acts like a U.S. visa. You still need to use your passport to travel, and this can create issues for asylum seekers, especially those who fear harm from the same government that issued the passport. And of course, asylum seekers should not return to the country of feared persecution, as that could kaibosh your asylum case.

Also, while your case is pending, if you move, you need to file a form to change your address. Depending where you move, this could cause your case to be transferred to a different Asylum Office. If the case moves to a new office, it should not cause additional delay and should be treated as if it were originally filed in the new office.

What if you do get an interview, but there is no decision? The most common reason for post-interview delay is the security background check, but there could be other reasons as well. You can contact the Asylum Office directly to ask about the delay, or you can ask your Congressperson or Senator to do that for you. You can also seek assistance from the DHS Ombudsman's office, which can sometimes help with delayed cases. None of these approaches seems very effective to me, but there is no harm in trying. If all else fails, you might consider a mandamus lawsuit. This is where you sue the Asylum Office and ask a federal judge to force them to issue a decision.

In the end, you will either be granted asylum, or your application will be rejected. If you are rejected, there are two choices: If you are no longer in lawful status in the U.S., you will be referred to an Immigration Judge, who will review your case and issue a new, independent decision. If you are still lawfully present in the U.S., you will receive a Notice of Intent to Deny, be given an opportunity to respond, and if the Asylum Office still cannot approve the case, they will issue a final denial. In that case, you are expected to leave the U.S. when your lawful period of stay ends, but you can re-file asylum (the process is different - check the I-589 instructions) or you can seek other ways to remain here.

So that is the affirmative asylum process in a nutshell. The system is a mess, and it is helpful to know that before you begin. Perhaps this knowledge will make the process a bit easier to endure.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: