What should you file when you first file for asylum?

Here, we'll discuss the documents needed to file an asylum application at the Asylum Office or in Immigration Court. Different lawyers have different opinions about filing an asylum application, but for me, the best bet is to keep the initial filing to the bare minimum.

Let's start with the Asylum Office. These days, you have a choice of filing by mail or filing online. In my practice, I am starting to file more frequently online. There are benefits to this: You get the receipt and biometric (fingerprint) notice within a few hours or a few days of filing, you can easily upload evidence and be sure that it is received (the Asylum Offices have a history of losing evidence), and you save paper and mailing fees. There are also some disadvantages, primarily that the online asylum form is awful. It is annoying and time consuming to enter data, it is difficult to read and review, and the interface between the lawyer and the client is awkward. Why USCIS could not have created an easy-to-use online form, I do not know. For online filings, we prepare the "regular" I-589 form with the client, and once that is done, we enter all the data into the USCIS system. This is more time consuming, but it is easier to see and review the client's information. Overall, for me, the advantages of filing online outweigh the disadvantages (barely), and so we are moving in that direction.

What documents should you file? Certain documents must be included with the form, whether you file online or by mail: A copy of all your passports and all your dependents' passports; if you are filing with a dependent spouse, you need a copy of your marriage certificate and a certified English translation; if you are filing with dependent children, you need a copy of each child's birth certificate plus a certified English translation. For the passports, you are supposed to include a copy of every single page of your passport(s), even blank pages.

Aside from these required documents, we do not include anything else with the initial filing. Why is that? Asylum cases usually take years--sometimes, many years. During that time, things change. If you file an affidavit and evidence with the initial application, they will likely be out-dated by the time of the interview.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple. The problem is that under LIFO, the last-in, first-out policy where USCIS gives priority to new cases over older cases, it is possible that you will receive an interview soon after filing. In the unlikely even that this happens, you need to be prepared for the interview.

Given the uncertainty and the long delays for most applicants, I believe the best approach is to prepare the affidavit at the time of filing, but not to file it. Also, I think it is best to gather as much evidence as possible at the time of filing, but not to file that either. The idea is that you will be ready to file your affidavit and evidence quickly if you are one of the few people who receives a fast interview. If not, you can update the affidavit and evidence later, when the interview is scheduled (keep in mind that interviews are often scheduled with only a few weeks notice, so there will be limited time to update everything and get it filed).

For people who have already filed their application and evidence, it is of course possible to file additional evidence and a supplemental affidavit. I just think this is not the best approach if you can avoid it, since having two affidavits can be confusing, and risks creating inconsistencies. Also, there is no benefit to having old country condition evidence, as the Asylum Officer will generally only consider the more recent evidence (unless the old country condition evidence relates directly to incidents in your case). For all these reasons, in my humble opinion, it is best to prepare your case as much as possible, but only file the minimum required documents and keep the rest until the interview.

So that is the approach for Asylum Office cases. What about Immigration Court?

In court, the procedures are more complicated. Any document that you file with the court must also be filed with the Department of Homeland Security (the prosecutor). Also, you have to send a copy of the first three pages of your asylum form (plus other documents) to USCIS in order to get a biometric appointment. Other than that, the logic of the initial filing is basically the same as for an affirmative asylum case.

There are a few differences worth mentioning, however. The biggest difference between the Asylum Office and Immigration Court is that you usually have a date for the final hearing in court, whereas at the Asylum Office, it could be in a few months or it could take many years. Of course, court hearings sometimes get moved around at random, but generally, you will know when your evidence and affidavit are due. Another difference is that Immigration Judges sometimes compel you to include additional information or evidence with the initial filing. If so, the judge should explain what is needed.

Sometimes applicants want to advance their cases. If so, it may make sense to file whatever evidence you have. That way, the judge will see that you are ready to go, and might schedule your case more quickly.

So there you have it. It seems to me that the best approach to an asylum case is to keep the initial filing to a minimum, but to have the affidavit and evidence ready, so you can file them as soon as they are required.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com