U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a significant change in the way it will schedule interviews for affirmative asylum applications, altering the processing of cases. Interviews will no longer be conducted in chronological order, with priority given to the most recent interviews, leaving those of earlier filers last.
According to USCIS, the goal of the change is to prevent individuals from using affirmative asylum processing delays "for the sole purpose of obtaining employment authorization by filing frivolous, fraudulent, and otherwise unmeritorious asylum applications."
Currently, asylum seekers may apply for a work permit after 150 days of filing an asylum application. In addition, the immigrant could not have committed certain acts that delay the processing of the application and have received a decision on his or her case within that time.
By prioritizing interviews for new applications, USCIS could identify meritless cases more quickly, thus preventing an affirmative asylum applicant from obtaining a work permit.
As of January 21, 2018 USCIS has a backlog of 311,000 pending affirmative asylum cases. The agency notes that the backlog grew by more than 1750% percent over the past five years and that the number of new affirmative asylum applications has more than tripled, increasing the vulnerability of the asylum system to fraud and abuse.
To combat the problem, USCIS has established the following priorities for scheduling affirmative asylum interviews:
First priority: Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview was rescheduled at the request of the petitioner or by USCIS need.
Second priority: Applications that have been pending for 21 days or less since they were submitted.
Third priority: All remaining affirmative asylum applications will be scheduled for interviews starting with the most recent and working down to the oldest applications.
In addition, USCIS will no longer issue the Affirmative Asylum Interview Scheduling Bulletin.
More details about these priorities can be found on the page USCIS Affirmative Asylum Interview Schedule.
What the decision means for affirmative asylum seekers
Depending on who and when affirmative asylum claims have been filed and the validity or strength of the cases, the USCIS change could be beneficial or detrimental.
For example, it will negatively affect people with excellent pending applications that could be approved, because they will have to wait longer to get their interviews with an asylum officer and resolve their case.
For those who have a pending case that is not strong and could not possibly win, this will help them keep their case open and continue to live and work in the United States legally.
First-time applicants with a strong case and good preparation will benefit because they will now be placed at the front of the line for the interview, speeding up the processing of their cases thanks to the new measure.
First-time affirmative asylum applicants with weak cases will be exposed to a possible immediate denial at the USCIS interview.
All individuals whose affirmative asylum cases are denied at USCIS may be referred to immigration court, where they may resume their asylum application in front of an immigration judge. It is estimated that there are currently more than 650,000 cases pending in immigration court.. The new USCIS measure could increase the backlog of cases in immigration court.