During the height of the pandemic, the Asylum Offices provided interpreters for applicants. However, since September 2023, USCIS has required asylum applicants to bring their own interpreter to the interview. This can be a problem for some applicants, as interpreters can be expensive. Also, some interpreters are better than others, and a bad interpreter can make it more difficult to win your asylum case.

Today, we'll discuss who can serve as an interpreter. We'll also talk about how to work with an interpreter, and provide some tips for the interpreters themselves.

Not just anyone can serve as an interpreter. According to USCIS, an interpreter must be 18 years old or older, and cannot be--
  • a witness in the case
  • an individual with their own pending asylum application
  • your attorney or accredited representative
  • a representative or employee of your country of nationality

And obviously, the interpreter must be fluent in English and your language. Failure to provide an interpreter who meets these requirements can result in the asylum application being dismissed or denied. USCIS states--

If you need an interpreter and do not bring one, or if your interpreter is not fluent in English and a language you speak, and you do not establish good cause, we may consider this a failure to appear for your interview and we may dismiss your asylum application or refer your asylum application to an immigration judge.

This does not mean that you have to use a professional interpreter or even pay for an interpreter. If you have a friend or family member who meets the above requirements, that person can serve as your interpreter. In fact, for most of my cases where the person needs an interpreter, they use a family member or a friend (though it is probably better not to use a close family member, like a spouse, child or sibling).

When working with an interpreter, there are a few things to keep in mind--
  • If you have a long sentence, break it into pieces so that the interpreter can translate each part. If you talk too long, the interpreter may not remember everything you say.
  • Be sure to allow the interpreter to complete the translation before you continue speaking.
  • If you hear the interpreter make a mistake, you can say something. Normally, I tell my clients to clarify the statement using their own language and if that does not work, they should clarify in English (if they can) or at least let the Asylum Officer know that something is wrong. Ultimately, if the interpreter is not doing a good job, it may be necessary to stop the interview and reschedule, so you can get a competent interpreter.
  • When you use an interpreter at an asylum interview, there will be a second interpreter on the phone. The job of this person is to monitor the interview to be sure that the translation is accurate. Because the telephonic interpreter needs to hear, it is important to keep your voice up. Also, if the in-person interpreter and the telephonic interpreter have a disagreement, they can explain their positions to the Asylum Office, who will make a decision. They should not argue with each other.
  • Try to talk with your interpreter before the interview, to make sure you both understand each other.
  • Sometimes, an asylum case involves discussing difficult topics, including sexual violence and sexual orientation. In such cases, you may not want a friend or relative to know these details, and it may be better to use a professional. Also, you should be comfortable (or at least able) to discuss such details with whoever serves as your interpreter.

Many asylum applicants use non-professional interpreters, as that is more affordable. If the interpreter is not familiar with the asylum interview process, it may be helpful to review this article, which discusses what happens at an interview. Also, the interpreter should remember the following--
  • The interpreter should translate what you say (and what the Asylum Officer and anyone else says) word for word. If you speak in the first person ("I am seeking asylum"), the interpreter should translate your words in the first person. The interpreter should not say, "She said that she is seeking asylum."
  • The interpreter should not add context or additional information. If the Asylum Officer needs more information, she can ask another question.
  • The interpreter should not paraphrase the original statement--they should simply repeat exactly what was said, but in the other language.
  • The interpreter should not be afraid to stop the applicant from speaking if she is talking for too long. The interpreter can raise his hand or simply ask the applicant to pause. It is very difficult to remember long statements, and sometimes, applicants (and officers) talk too much. The interpreter has to stop them from speaking in order to make an accurate translation.
  • It is a good idea to have a language dictionary for any words that the interpreter does not know (they can also ask for help from the telephonic interpreter). The interpreter should have a pen and paper, so they can take notes and spell words for the officer.
  • The interpreter should come to the interview with a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport.
  • Finally, the interpreter should dress appropriately for a formal setting.
It can be challenging for non-professionals to interpret an interview, even for people who speak both languages very fluently, and so if you are not confident that your interpreter can do the job, it may be worth finding a professional. An interpreter can make a difference in the outcome of your application (for better or worse), and so it is important to use someone who can do the job and who you feel comfortable working with on the case.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com