Update on USCIS Asylum Interview Priorities

Feb 06, 2018

February 5, 2018

In an effort to keep you informed with the most up to date information, we are writing to inform you about a change in USCIS’s priority categories for scheduling affirmative asylum interviews. Because this change may affect the timeline of the asylum cases you may have filed previously or are yet to file, the following information may be important for your cases:

As you may have known, USCIS previously held the following priority categories since December 2014:

  • First priority: Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the applicant requested a new interview date;
  • Second priority: Applications filed by children; and
  • Third priority: All other pending affirmative asylum applications will be scheduled for interviews in the order they were received, with oldest cases scheduled first.

Because of their backlog of pending asylum cases, as of Jan 21, 2018, USCIS has now changed scheduling bulletin to the following priority categories in effect January 29, 2018:

  • First priority: Applications that were scheduled for an interview, but the interview had to be rescheduled at the applicant’s request or the needs of USCIS.
  • Second priority: Applications that have been pending 21 days or less.
  • Third priority: All other pending affirmative asylum applications will be scheduled for interviews starting with newer filings and working back towards older filings.

As you can see, there are two significant changes in the scheduling bulletin: The removal of children as a stated priority and shifting to the last-in/first out method of scheduling. USCIS has stated that their justification for this change is to “deter those who might try to use the existing backlog as a means to obtain employment authorization. Returning to a “last in, first out” interview schedule will allow USCIS to identify frivolous, fraudulent or otherwise non-meritorious asylum claims earlier and place those individuals into removal proceedings.” While this may mean speedier asylum interviews for new cases that are filed, cases that were filed months ago may be met with even longer wait times.

While we do not know exactly what this means for how timely ZAR will schedule interviews for children’s cases, we could expect longer periods of time between filing and receiving and interview date. The change to focusing on new cases may mean that if you filed an asylum case before the January 29th release of the asylum interview bulletin, there may be a longer delay than the usual 90-day timeline to receive an interview date. In the previous ZAR stakeholder meeting, ZAR stated that 80 % of the local asylum cases that receive interviews are UAC cases (the other 10-15% are automatic priority scheduling and 5-10% are expedited requests). Given the large proportion of UAC cases at the asylum office, this may mean speedier interview dates for new cases that are filed, but we will not know until we see first-hand what occurs. It is unclear if detained UACs will have the same timeline of scheduling as non-detained UACs but CAIR Coalition plans to ask for an update about this topic at the next ZAR stakeholder meeting this month.

Again, we can only speculate how these changes will be implemented, but we will have a better idea once we see the scheduling trends in the future.  If you have any questions about how this new priority scheduling may affect your case, do not hesitate to contact the CAIR Coalition staff appointed to your case or Michael Lukens, Pro Bono Director. If you would like to reach out directly to ZAR to inquire about scheduling, you may also email them at zarreschedulerequest@uscis.dhs.gov.