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Getting asylum in the United States can be a long process, but knowing exactly how long is difficult. Affirmative asylum cases have a different timeline than defensive asylum cases, but how on does it usually take for someone to get asylum?

UPDATE: As of February 2018, USCIS is now scheduling asylum interview based on a last-come first-out basis. The policy change reflects the Trump administration immigration policy of “Buy American – Hire American” on asylum applicants who apply just for the work permit exploiting the delay that was in effect before this policy change.

You should expect an interview anywhere between 30 to 60 days from the date USCIS receives your application for asylum.

Deadlines Set by USCIS

There are legal guidelines for how long the asylum process should take through USCIS. These are set up by the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) § 208(d)(5). According to this act, your interview is supposed to happen within 45 days of you having applied for asylum, and the decision is supposed to come less than 180 days after the application.

The problem is that these guidelines were put into place when a smaller number of people were applying for asylum annually. At the time of the INA, these were reasonable expectations to place on the USCIS. However, the number of people applying for asylum has dramatically increased, and these aren’t reasonable expectations anymore.

Backlogged Asylum Cases

There are an enormous number of asylum cases waiting to be processed by the USCIS. Unfortunately, this backlog makes it impossible for the time guidelines to be met. You cannot expect the times laid out by the INA to be in effect if you apply for asylum now. Instead, USCIS has set up a priority system to handle cases in different timelines.

First priority is given to interview appointments that had to be rescheduled by the USCIS or the applicant. Second priority is for unaccompanied minors that apply for asylum. Third priority is to any other new asylum applicant. The third priority cases are all taken care of in the order they are received, which means your application will be put in the back of the queue whenever you apply.

Most third priority applications take between 2 – 5 years to get an interview, with months or sometimes years between the interview and the decision. The process will be shorter for first and second priority applicants. If you want to get more precise timing information, you can check out the official Affirmative Asylum Scheduling Bulletin to get a better idea about how long you may need to wait.

How Long Do Affirmative Asylum Applications Take?

All the above information is about affirmative asylum applications. After you arrive in the United States and apply for asylum, you’ll be subject to the wait times mentioned earlier for the level of priority placed on your case. There’s no way to definitively tell how long your wait will be.

How Long Do Defensive Asylum Applications Take?

Some affirmative asylum cases are referred to the US Immigration Court, or the applicant is someone who was detained and is facing deportation. In these cases, a defensive asylum application is submitted. These usually move much more quickly than affirmative asylum cases. At your first hearing, the Master Calendar Hearing, you’ll be asked if you want to expedite your Merits Hearing.

If you expedite your Merits Hearing, you’ll still be expected to provide all the necessary evidence by the deadline. So, you have to make sure you’re ready before you decide to expedite it! Expedited hearings can take place in 2 – 3 months from the original hearing instead of the normal years between hearings.

In cases where the hearing is not expedited, it may again take years to get a Merits Hearing for your defensive asylum application. The good news is the decisions will either be made immediately at the final Merit Hearing, or shortly afterwards in written form. You should not have to wait more than a few weeks for a decision on your defensive asylum application.

Appeals can be made if you’re denied asylum. This can take carrying amounts of time, depending on when the appeal is placed and which court authority it’s placed with. Keep in mind that the US government may also be able to appeal your grant of asylum, delaying the process even further.

What You Can Do While Waiting

You do have options on what to do while you’re waiting for processing of your application. After 150 days of a pending application, you can apply to get authorized for work. After 180 days of pending processing status, you’ll be allowed to work in the United States if your authorization request was granted. This will give you a way to earn an income and take care of yourself while you’re waiting to see about your asylum application.

Unfortunately, there are few options for bringing family members to the United States while your asylum application is being processed.

If you have any other questions about applying for asylum, get in touch with me, Fady Eskandar, for a free consultation about your case.