This article is by Allen Schwartz, a former Asylum Officer who now offers consulting services to asylum seekers and attorneys. He may be reached at allen.schwartz@visaconsults.com or (305) 528-6474. Learn more about him at his website, www.visaconsults.com.

One year ago, I contributed to The Asylumist by submitting a post entitled Reflections and Advice from a Recently-Retired Asylum Officer. Now, as the number of affirmative asylum interviews continue to increase at Asylum Offices across the country, I would like to highlight some red flags that could occur during these interviews. A good number of these red flags may be due to Asylum Officer (“AO”) burnout and/or lack of sufficient training/experience.

First of all, some background. It is essential that AO’s conduct their interviews in a fair and objective manner. All AO’s are provided with extensive training and are instructed to be non-adversarial while conducting these very critical interviews. The AO’s are also instructed to examine each applicant’s written materials and oral testimony individually, applying asylum laws and regulations and paying close attention to country condition information.

At times however, after interviewing numerous asylum seekers (many from the same countries with similar experiences and testimony), AO’s may become cynical or worse yet, adversarial/non-objective. The AO position is indeed a very challenging one and sometimes errors or even incorrect adjudications can be rendered. Here are some key factors which might indicate that your interview was not properly conducted--

(1) The AO becomes increasingly impatient and does not allow the applicant to fully explain details of his or her claim. The AO can appear adversarial or fail to ask questions in a neutral manner. Examples of this may include telling the applicant to only provide “yes" or “no” answers when more explanation is needed, failing to ask for clarifications if and when needed, telling the applicant something like, “I know that you are lying so tell me the truth.”

(2) The AO overtly demonstrates a lack of interest in exploring all aspects of the asylum claim. Examples may include the AO appearing distracted, such as repeatedly looking at his/her telephone or watch, not carefully taking notes, appearing to nod off or almost fall asleep during the interview.

(3) The AO lacks an appropriate depth of knowledge of, or familiarity with, applicant’s home country. Examples may include AO confusing applicant’s home country with another country (such as confusing Turkey with Turkmenistan, Iran with Iraq, Sudan with South Sudan or Zimbabwe with Zambia). The AO may also be unfamiliar with current or recent country conditions and/or show a lack of interest in understanding the basic culture, language, customs or history of applicant’s home country.

(4) The time spent at the interview is either too short for a more complex case or too long for a less complex case. Let me explain. At the very least, the AO must review and elicit testimony on the I-589 form and personal statement for each applicant. An example of an inadequately short interview may be a complicated religion-based claim from the Middle East, which lasts an hour or less. In complex cases, the personal statement may be quite lengthy (10+ pages). Therefore, one hour is clearly an insufficient amount of time to address all the issues. On the other hand, a well-documented and concise (i.e., five-page personal statement) political opinion case from a repressive regime in Africa that lasts three hours or more may not be necessary. Sometimes AO’s extend interviews and put up barriers, so applicants become fatigued or uncomfortable. An interview that feels more like a lengthy interrogation is a red flag.

The above-mentioned scenarios are possible examples of AO burnout or insufficient training/experience which can affect the ultimate outcome of the case. If you as an asylum applicant or your representative (i.e., attorney) believe that your case may have been inaccurately adjudicated due to these scenarios, a request can be made for a reconsideration or re-interview.

Another example where a request to reconsider might be appropriate is where the asylum decision is factually incorrect or country conditions are not timely or relevant. This reconsideration request should only be reserved for the most clear-cut cases that are well-documented and warranted. I believe that asylum offices take these requests seriously and may result in a re-interview of your case.

In conclusion, although I believe that the vast majority of Asylum Officers are very well trained to elicit testimony, interview applicants, and adjudicate asylum claims, job burnout and lack of training/experience are real issues. These issues can lead, unfortunately, to erroneous decisions. Therefore, while we all should be heartened by the hiring of many new AOs and the increase of scheduled interviews, it is important to note that red flags can and do occur periodically during asylum interviews. Being aware of these red flags is essential in order to receive an unbiased, just, and fair asylum interview.

Currently I am offering my services to prepare pending asylum applicants for their actual interview by conducting full mock interviews. If you are an affirmative asylum applicant represented by an attorney or accredited representative and would like a mock interview just prior to the interview at your local Asylum Office, please contact me. If you are an attorney or accredited representative who would like an enhanced level of service for your asylum seeking clients, I would be pleased to assist them by providing a complete and confidential mock interview.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com