Recently, the Asylum Offices have started scheduling interviews for applicants who filed years ago. In our office, we've seen a couple cases from 2015 get scheduled in Virginia, and I have been hearing from other lawyers about their old applications receiving interview notices in Virginia and at other Asylum Offices. That's good news for applicants who have been waiting years for an interview. But as they say, every silver lining has a black cloud, and the black cloud here is a lack of sufficient notice to prepare for the interview.

Today, we'll discuss what is happening at the Asylum Offices and what applicants should be doing now to get ready for their interviews. In a future post, we'll talk about how the Asylum Offices can improve the system and ensure that applicants receive due process of law.

First, what is happening? According to USCIS, as of March 2024, there are two tracks for scheduling asylum interviews. The first track prioritizes cases as follows: (1) Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or by USCIS; (2) Applications that have been pending 21 days or fewer; and (3) All other pending affirmative asylum applications, starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings. This first track is basically LIFO-the last in, first out system that I have frequently criticized as unfair and ineffective at preventing fraud (its purported goal).

The second track is new: USCIS assigns some of its Asylum Officers ("AOs") to complete affirmative asylum applications pending in the backlog, starting with the oldest applications and working forward. This permits some of the oldest pending applications to be completed in chronological order. How many AOs are assigned to Track Two? We do not know, and I suspect that it varies over time and by office, depending on other needs, such as the border. When the border is busy, more AOs will be deployed there to interview asylum seekers. When the border is less busy (and it has lately been less busy), more AOs can devote their time to affirmative asylum interviews. At the moment, some of the oldest applicants are receiving interviews. How long this trend will continue, we do not know.

When interviews are scheduled, it is common for applicants (and their lawyers) to receive little notice--often only a week or a few weeks. My understanding is that the Asylum Offices have difficulty scheduling interviews with more notice because they do not have much control over their own schedules. That's because AOs are required to cover different types of cases (mostly, but not entirely at the border) and it is difficult to predict how many officers will be available for "regular" interviews.

Of course, when applicants (and their lawyers) do not get sufficient advanced notice of the interview, they cannot properly prepare. For my own cases that recently received interviews, and for those that I have heard about, the applications were filed in 2015. Much may have changed in the intervening nine years, and cases need to be updated or completed. Also, for lawyers, we may not have had contact with our clients for years, and it sometimes takes time to find the client, explain what is happening, and complete the case. In addition, lawyers are already busy, and scheduling an interview with little lead time makes it very difficult for us to complete the work and attend the interview.

The short notice is particularly problematic since most Asylum Offices want additional evidence at least one week before the interview, which gives you even more limited time to prepare. The Asylum Offices tend to be flexible about this rule, and will often accept evidence less than a week prior to the interview, or even on the same day. However, unless absolutely necessary, it is best to submit your evidence on time, which will allow the AO to review your documents prior to the interview. Most Asylum Offices accept evidence by email, but also bring a hard copy in case the evidence does not reach the officer.

If your interview gets scheduled and you do not have enough time to prepare, you can ask to reschedule. Rescheduled cases are (supposedly) the first priority under Track One, and so the delay caused by rescheduling should not be long. Also, it is better to delay now and present the case properly, rather than move forward when the case is not ready. I do think there is some risk of a long delay if you postpone the case, and each person will need to make their own decision about how best to proceed, but for my money, I would prioritize winning the case over going faster.

If your case is in good shape when USCIS schedules the interview, you will not need to postpone. So what can you do now to prepare? Make sure your affidavit is ready and up to date, and that you have updates available for your I-589. Also, have all your evidence ready to go, including all translations. If you have everything organized and complete, you can finalize the evidence packet and get it filed quickly once the Asylum Office sends an interview notice. (I do not recommend that you send evidence before the interview is scheduled, as the Asylum Office is very likely to lose it).

While it is good news that the Asylum Offices are finally paying attention to the oldest cases, it is not easy to get ready for an interview with only a few days or weeks notice. It is also difficult to prepare mentally--to dredge up old memories and recall age-old details. But if you take some time now to review your case, and make sure everything is in order and ready, you will be better positioned to do well at the interview, even if the Asylum Office gives you little advanced notice.

That's all for now. Next time, we'll discuss what the Asylum Office can do to improve the process (spoiler alert: More notice prior to the interview!).

Originally posted at the Asylumist: