On January 31, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it is no longer scheduling asylum interviews in the order the asylum applications were received. Instead, USCIS will implement what it calls a "last in, first out" approach, in which it will work backwards, prioritizing the most recently filed applications for asylum interviews.
How will asylum interviews be scheduled now?
1. Asylum seekers who have already been scheduled for an interview
These interviews will still take place on the scheduled date and time.
2. Asylum seekers who were scheduled for an interview, but whose interview had to be rescheduled
USCIS has made these interviews the first priority. It does not matter if the interview is being rescheduled because the asylum seeker requested a different interview date, or because USCIS had to reschedule the interview. These asylum seekers should expect to receive a new interview date very soon.
3. Asylum seekers who file their asylum applications after today
USCIS has made these interviews the second priority. Once USCIS has interviewed all the asylum seekers whose interviews had to be rescheduled, USCIS will begin scheduling interviews in the newly filed filed cases. USCIS will attempt to schedule interviews within 21 days of the asylum application being filed.
4. Asylum seekers who already filed their asylum applications
USCIS has made these interviews the last priority. Furthermore, USCIS will schedule these interviews by working backwards, by interviewing asylum seekers in the opposite order in which they filed their applications.
What does this mean for New York's asylum seekers?
Before this announcement was made, New York's asylum seekers could expect to wait at least two or three years before being scheduled for their interview. For many of these asylum seekers, the backlog in asylum cases caused a great deal of anguish, as it meant being separated from family members for long periods of time. It also meant several years of uncertainty about their future. But this backlog also provided individuals with plenty of time to collect the evidence for their asylum case, including obtaining important documents from their home countries, seeking statements of support from witnesses and experts, collecting reports and news articles that corroborated their stories, and seeking counseling services to help them tell their stories. Asylum seekers were also able to use this time to save money to hire an asylum attorney to assist with gathering the supporting evidence as well as preparing the asylum seekers to testify at their interviews.
"USCIS claims that this new policy is being implemented to prevent people from taking advantage of the asylum backlog by filing fraudulent asylum applications in order to obtain work permits," says Caitlin Steinke, an asylum attorney who provides free legal consultations to RIF's community of asylum seekers. "But this policy is just the latest example of the viciously racist and anti-immigrant Trump administration purposefully targeting forms of humanitarian relief for people who have come to the United States seeking protection from human rights abuses."
Under this new scheduling policy, the asylum seekers who have been waiting the longest for their interviews will be kept at the end of the queue, and will be the last to be scheduled for their interviews. Ms. Steinke fears that this new policy will not only discourage immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States, but actually encourage asylum seekers who have already been waiting years for their interviews to just give up. "There are thousands of asylum seekers who have been separated from their family members for years already, and who may be willing to risk persecution in their home country in order to be reunited with their loved ones. This new policy is reprehensible."
Because of this new policy, RIF encourages asylum seekers to gather as much evidence as they can in support of their asylum claim before they file their application. The one-year filing deadline is still in effect, so asylum seekers must be sure to file their applications within one year of their most recent entry into the United States. RIF highly encourages all asylum seekers to find an attorney to represent them throughout the asylum process, as this vastly increases the chances of being granted asylum.
Note: RIF provides information, support, and access to resources for asylum seekers in New York. None of our written publications should be construed as providing legal advice to asylum seekers or creating an attorney-client relationship. We encourage asylum seekers to attend RIF's legal workshops, where they can seek legal advice from volunteer asylum attorneys.