Asylum Office Changes:  The Good & Bad for Asylum Applicants

The USCIS Asylum Offices recently announced significant changes in the way they prioritize affirmative asylum applications, which is good news for some, and not so good for others.

Traditionally, Asylum Offices processed cases on a “last in, first out” basis, meaning they prioritized cases filed most recently.  This was intended to decrease the number of frivolous cases filed by people who, knowing the process would take several years used an asylum application as a way to stay in the U.S. and obtain work authorization.

The “last in, first out” system works as long as the Asylum Offices are able to keep up with the number of cases being filed.  This had been the case from 1997 when the procedure was first implemented until approximately 2013, with most applicants receiving interviews within three to five weeks.

waiting in lineThis changed, however, in early 2013, when large numbers of Central Americans, mostly children, began arriving at the U.S. border and claiming asylum.  These cases received priority because the applicants were primarily detained and/or minors.  The influx of cases overwhelmed the Asylum Offices and created a backlog of affirmative asylum cases, resulting in frustration for many applicants who subsequently had to wait years for an interview while others who filed more recently only had to wait a few months.

Despite Asylum Office efforts to hire additional asylum officers, the backlog remained.  So, as of late December 2014, the Asylum Offices decided to change the way they prioritize cases.  Applications are now adjudicated according to the following priorities:

  • 1st – Rescheduled cases (applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the applicant requested a new interview date);
  • 2nd – Applications filed by minors; and
  • 3rd – Applications filed by adults on a first in, first out

This is extremely good news for applicants in the backlog because it means that Asylum Offices are now prioritizing pending cases over newly filed cases and they should receive interviews sooner rather than later.  At Just Law International, clients whose asylum applications have been pending since 2013 are in fact receiving interviews.

The bad news is that all new asylum applicants now have a long wait for interviews (the official estimate from USCIS is 20-24 months).  There are ways an applicant can try speeding up her case, such as the “short-notice” list for those pending at the Arlington Asylum Office, or a request for an expedited interview based on “compelling or exceptional circumstances.”  At Just Law International, we can help you determine if either is an option for you, and assist you with the request.  We can also help track your case and ensure that you receive work authorization as soon as possible after you file.  Please contact us to schedule an appointment to discuss your case and the options available to you.  Asylum is complicated, and especially now with these changes, you need an experienced attorney advocating for you and helping you through the process.

Please consult an attorney for advice about your individual situation.  The information provided on this site is not legal advice, nor is it intended to be.  You are welcome to get in touch with our law firm by electronic mail, letters, or phone calls.  Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Until an attorney-client relationship is established, please withhold from sending any confidential information.

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