The Asylum Offices have lately begun scheduling interviews for the longest-waiting applicants. The good news is that people who have been waiting seven, eight, nine years or more are finally receiving interviews. The bad news is that the Asylum Offices are giving little notice prior to the interview--often only a week or two--and so applicants have insufficient time to get ready.

Last time, I wrote about what applicants themselves should be doing now to prepare for their interviews. Today, we'll discuss how the Asylum Offices can improve efficiency and ensure due process of law for asylum seekers.

First, it is important to understand why sufficient notice is important. The most obvious reason is that without advanced warning of the interview, applicants may not have time to gather additional evidence, update their affidavit, and obtain current country condition evidence. Applicants also need time to practice for the interview and to mentally prepare. Asylum cases often involve discussing difficult and painful topics, and for an interview to be scheduled at the last minute after many years of waiting can be very disorienting and upsetting. In addition, pro se applicants often want to hire a lawyer to finish the case and attend the interview. When the interview is scheduled with little advanced notice, it may be impossible to find an attorney who is available to assist.

The last-minute scheduling is also very difficult for attorneys who represent asylum applicants. Most such attorneys have many cases, not to mention family and other life obligations. When an interview notice comes in, we are forced to drop other work, and shift gears to quickly complete and file updated documents, schedule time to prep the client, and then attend an interview, which can easily last all day. Attempting to incorporate all this into an already busy schedule is--at best--disruptive, and at worst, impossible. Many attorneys that I know are overworked, over-stressed, and thinking of leaving the field. As asylum interviews ramp up, these problems will only get worse, causing lawyers to take fewer cases and charge more money.

I often suspect that the Asylum Offices do not appreciate how much work and time it takes to prepare an asylum case. If USCIS understood better what was required, maybe they would make a greater effort to ensure applicants have enough advanced notice to get ready.

All that said, there are changes that the Asylum Offices can make to give applicants more notice prior to the interview. Below are a few humble suggestions:

Bring back the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin: Prior to January 2018, when FIFO (first in, first out) was a thing and the Asylum Offices were interviewing cases in the order received, USCIS posted the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin, listing which cases were currently being interviewed at each Asylum Office. So, for example, it might state, "Newark, NJ - August 2015," meaning that the Newark Asylum Office was currently interviewing cases filed in about August 2015. If you filed your case in October 2015, you knew that your interview would likely be coming soon and you should get ready. Now that USCIS is scheduling some of the oldest cases for interviews under the FIFO system, they could revive the Scheduling Bulletin to give us an idea about when to expect interviews for the longest-waiting applicants.

Directly contact applicants before scheduling an interview: Even better than the Scheduling Bulletin, USCIS could directly reach out to applicants before scheduling an interview. This would obviously require more effort on their part, but it would significantly increase overall efficiency. That's because, historically, a significant percentage of asylum interviews are either "no shows" or are rescheduled. In FY 2022, 39% of scheduled interviews did not take place because either the applicant failed to appear or the case was rescheduled. This data is for new applicants (under LIFO--last in, first out) and it stands to reason that an even higher percentage of old applicants will not appear (because they left the U.S. or obtained status some other way) or will need to reschedule to update their cases and prepare. If the Asylum Office knows which applicants will be scheduled soon, they can reach out to those people, determine whether an interview is still needed, and give applicants a warning that they should get ready. All this will allow applicants (and their attorneys) to prepare for the interview and should dramatically reduce the number of interview slots that are wasted when applicants reschedule or do not appear at all.

Do not schedule applicants who do not need an interview: During the years of delay, many asylum seekers find alternative paths to legal status, maybe based on a family relationship or a job, for example. For those applicants who have another form of relief available, the Asylum Office should postpone the interview until the other application is resolved. Currently, the Asylum Offices require all applicants to appear for an interview when called, even if the person is clearly eligible for other relief. This is a waste of Asylum Office resources and a waste of time for the applicant.

Only schedule applicants who want an interview: Some applicants desperately want an interview. Others prefer additional delay because they have a weak case or they hope to accrue 10 years in the United States in order to apply for Cancellation of Removal in Immigration Court. Why not allow such people to further delay their cases--maybe indefinitely--and give their interview slots to people who actually want an interview?

These changes would benefit asylum applicants and their attorneys, who will have more time to prepare their cases and more control over their schedules. They would also benefit the Asylum Offices by reducing "no shows" and reschedules. We should be grateful that the Asylum Offices are making an effort to interview the oldest cases. Now they need a system to ensure that those interviews are efficient and respect applicants' right to due process of law.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: