How Long Does the Asylum Seeking Process Usually Take?

asylum seeking process
asylum seeking process

You’ve completed Form I-589 and have submitted it to the USCIS – you are confident you have explained your case carefully and provided a wealth of supporting evidence. What next? Now you have to play the waiting game and from experience, we find this is an area of unknown for those in the asylum seeking process.


We are sure you’ve heard horror stories from others claiming the process takes years to complete and you can be left helpless without any guidance. But is that the case? It’s imperative that you understand timeframes properly so you know exactly what to expect, and what you need to create provisions for until you get your asylum approval letter.


This is what we discuss below – we explore the asylum process, and how long each step takes such as receiving an interview, and ultimately receiving a final decision. We also explore the appeals process and how long it can take to go through the Immigration Appeals system. To give a quick start – on average, it takes 180 days to receive a decision after completing Form I-589.


The Asylum Seeking Process Involves Multiple Steps


First, you have to understand the process and the different steps before we can look at the different timeframes. Within the asylum process there are the following steps:


  • Traveling to the US.
  • Completing and filing Form I-589.
  • Waiting for asylum interview date.
  • Attending the asylum interview.
  • Waiting for a decision.
  • Appealing a denied decision.

Completed and filing Form I-589


To be eligible for US asylum you have to be physically present in the US before you file the application. Once at a US port of entry or within US territory you can complete and file Form I-589 which is the application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal and the USCIS provides instructions on how to complete it.


This form is a crucial step and it must be completed within one year of your arrival in the US. We advise completing this form as quickly as possible as the longer you take to file it, the longer you have to wait to get an interview and so on. In the same instance, make sure that you complete the form carefully, read every section fully, and give detailed answers relating to your case where possible.


Missing important information from the form, or falsifying any information on it could cause delays in your application or void it completely.


Attending a hearing at a USCIS Asylum Office


Once your form is filed, you should receive a date for an affirmative asylum interview within 45 days, however, as you will see below, this can take longer based on how the priority system works. You must bring the following to the interview:


  • Official identification documents such as a passport
  • Any other relevant travel documents
  • Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record)
  • Original ID papers such as birth certificate
  • Copy of Form I-589 and your supporting evidence


The interview is conducted by a USCIS officer and you can have an interpreter, your legal counsel, and witnesses attend the meeting too. Typically, the interview lasts at least one hour but can take much longer depending on the officer and how credible they view your case to be.


You may find the process intense and intimidation tactics can be used – this is only done to make sure your evidence and case for sanctuary stand up, so always respond truthfully. Preparing for the interview is important and your asylum lawyer can help with this, such as advising on the potential questions, and what you should wear, etc.


Defending Your Case in an Immigration Court Hearing


Hopefully, your case gets approved, but sadly, this is not always the case and if it does get denied then you get referred to the EOIR (Exectuive Office for Immigration Review) which is part of the Department for Justice. You will get an initial Master Calendar Hearing which is essentially a preliminary hearing to determine how your case will proceed from that point.


Your asylum attorney can attend this hearing and this is where dates will be agreed to submit your appeal – in most instances, your attorney will do most of the work and answer questions on your behalf. During this initial hearing, you should not be questioned about your asylum case either – that happens during the appeal hearing with the B.I.A.

best asylum lawyer in USA
best asylum lawyer in USA

Appealing the Immigration Judge’s Denial to the Board of Immigration Appeals


The second stage after your initial Master Calendar hearing is a merit hearing or individual hearing. During these merit hearings, the focus is placed on you and your asylum case. Essentially, the judge is determining if your case is valid and if the initial denial for asylum should be overturned.


Because of the specific focus and the detail of these hearings, they will take much longer than the relatively short 15-minute Master Calendar hearings. During the merit hearing, you can give testimony and the evidence you have provided will be reviewed for validity. 


You will also be given the chance to make a final statement or argument. In some instances, these hearings can take four or more hours depending on the length of the testimony and the evidence you provide. The hearing culminates in the judge making a decision – this is usually made openly in court.

Pursuing Further Appeals Through the Federal Court System


If your hearing with the Board of Immigration Appeals proves unsuccessful, you or the US government can challenge the decision. This is done by filing a motion to reconsider, or a motion to reopen. These motions must be filed within 90 days of the hearing and the judge’s decision and they are most commonly made if new evidence in your case has come to light that could make a difference.


The issue with these further appeals is that they can take six months or more to process due to the large backlog of cases already in the immigration system waiting for review. You have to weigh up the additional time, expense, and stress making further appeals will cause and your asylum lawyer can advise on the best course of action and if they think appealing further could be fruitful.

Asylum Office Processing Times


The first stage where you could meet delays in the process is once you have submitted your initial asylum application and are waiting for your asylum approval letter. Form I-589 (which is the form to submit for your application) is processed by the USCIS and it’s important to understand that they deal with a huge amount of applications annually and this often creates a backlog.


As per the Immigration and Nationality Act, the USCIS is meant to arrange and conduct your interview no longer than 45 days after they have received your application. In most instances this holds true, but the USCIS has actually created a system to deal with their application backlog. 


Essentially, there are three levels of prioritization:


  1. People who had an application scheduled, but a new date was requested either by the person or the USCIS.
  2. People who have been pending for 21 days or less.
  3. All over pending asylum applications.


In the case of all of these three priorities, order is assigned based on the order received. Due to this priority system, it means that oftentimes you may be waiting much longer than the aimed 45 days. It is possible to contact the USCIS to try and expedite the process to obtain an interview quicker, but in most cases, it’s simply a case of waiting.


asylum lawyer
asylum lawyer

USCIS Asylum Office Decision on Your Case


Like the waiting time for an interview, the USCIS is also supposed to get your asylum approval letter or denial within 180 days of your form submission. It’s important to note that this is a quoted average – some people get a decision much quicker than this, whereas others have reported to be waiting for over a year.


Making sure that you complete your application form properly, gather as much evidence as possible to support your case, and conduct yourself in a professional, honest manner during your interview can help make the USCIS’s decision easier and quicker.


Once you have received your decision, one of two things happens:


  1. Your asylum application is approved – fantastic!
  2. You are denied asylum – this doesn’t mean game over


If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision to the Immigration Court system and Board of Immigration Appeals which we discuss below.

Immigration Court (EOIR) Decision on Your Asylum Case


The EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review) is responsible for running the Immigration court and dealing with denied claims and deportation requests. If your case is denied, you are automatically referred to the EOIR for removal proceedings which can lead to deportation.


However, that doesn’t mean the end of your plea for US asylum. You are initially referred to the EOIR and have a Master Calendar Hearing scheduled which is where you will get to plead your case to an immigration judge. You can expect to receive this scheduled appointment a few weeks after you have received your denial and the hearing itself typically takes between 15-45 minutes.


During this procedure, you can then request an appeal at which case your claim will be moved to the BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals), which is the highest level of immigration court in the US and we explain this process below.

asylum attorney
asylum attorney

Decision on Your Asylum Case by the B.I.A


Unfortunately, the appeals process can take much longer compared to the initial application and decision. It is estimated that on average it can take between 8-18 months for the Board of Immigration Appeals to make a final decision.


From the EOIR Master Calendar Hearing, if you have not been detained for removal, you will have 21 days to make your file your initial appeal brief to the B.I.A. The responding party (i.e. the B.I.A) then has a further 21-day deadline from that point to file a response brief before a date for the hearing is scheduled.


Typically the hearing with the Board of Immigration Appeals and the subsequent decision represent the final opportunity to get your denial overturned. This means that preparing for the hearing and submitting your request in a timely manner is especially important. Hiring an asylum attorney for this process is vital as they can make sure everything is done on time and you prepare yourself in the best way possible.

Should You Hire an Asylum Attorney?


It’s understandable that you may feel a little overwhelmed by these processes and the different steps involved. Indeed, applying for asylum can be difficult, but you can gain advice, assistance, and representation at each stage from an asylum immigration lawyer. The best asylum lawyer in USA can help with the following:


  • Completing Form I-589 and other documents.
  • Compliance with form completion and meeting deadlines.
  • Making sure your applications are error-free.
  • Providing legal counsel at each step of the process.
  • Helping you prepare for the asylum interview.
  • Attending the interview as your legal representative.
  • Helping you navigate any appeal processes.
  • Attending appeal hearings as your legal representative.


Essentially, an asylum immigration lawyer can help speed up the process and prevent any delays due to things like incorrect forms, missed deadlines, or a lack of preparation. They can give you the best chance of success and make sure you have a real claim, and that you have a strong case to support it.

Remember that this isn’t just a standard lawyer – you would be hiring an experience asylum lawyer who has dealt with hundreds of applications and cases beforehand. They specialize in US immigration and understand what it takes to create a strong asylum case.


If you are worried about fees, there are lawyers who offer a pro bono service (free legal representation for those with a limited income), low-cost services, or finance plans to make the fees manageable.

waiting for asylum interview date
waiting for asylum interview date

Acting Promptly Can Reduce Your Asylum Approval Period


You have to understand that the application and approval process for US Sanctuary is not quick. To reiterate, the average time taken to receive a decision after filing Form I-589 is 180 days. If you are initially denied, the appeals process can take anywhere from 5-18 months.


With these timeframes in mind, you then have to make provisions, prepare for the long haul, and make sure you have things in place like accommodation, employment, and any benefits you are privy to so that you can stay in the US until the process is complete.


If you have any more questions or want to start your US application, contact an asylum attorney to begin our journey to a better life free from persecution.


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