Going backwards to move forward: processing asylum applications
The constant flow of asylum seekers entering the US against a backdrop of backlogged applications demands change, one that the USCIS in New Jersey is up for. Even urgent applications are processed according to an established schedule. Furthermore, the bipartisan bantering over immigration reform has produced very little in the way of mitigating the backlog. Yet, hope is on the horizon.
The Affirmative Asylum Interview priority schedule
In an effort to clear the backlog, USCIS returned the priority of asylum applications to the original way in which it was set up. In January 1995, applications were processed by their filing date with the most recent filings being handled first. Now, the protocol is as follows:
- First priority is given to those whose initial interviews had to be rescheduled either by the USCIS or the applicant.
- Applications that have been filed for less than 21 days have second priority.
- All other applications are processed working backward from the newest to the oldest.
Revising the affirmative asylum interview priority schedule is one of the efforts to reduce the backlog and prevent fraud. The backlog unwittingly created an opportunity for asylum seekers to fraudulently seek work by filing sham asylum applications. Prioritizing the most recent applications first will now put the applicants into deportation proceedings. This is designed to shield the program from abuse to get a work permit. While there is still much work to be done, the plan has proven to be a very efficient step in the right direction.
What is affirmative asylum?
Affirmative asylum occurs when a foreigner in the US applies for refuge within a year of his arrival. After he submits an application to USCIS, an immigration officer will review it and determine if he is eligible for asylum. While he is awaiting a decision, He can remain in the US, but is not permitted to work. Unless he gets special permission, he will only be able to live and work in the US after his application for asylum is approved.
Asylum offers refuge in the US for foreigners who can prove a credible fear of persecution in their native countries. These fears can be religious, political or other threats to one’s life. Irrespective of their immigration status, asylum seekers have the right to apply to the program. While the goal is noble, the process is not easy and may take months before asylum is granted. For those whose applications are accepted, they will be allowed to live and work in the US as citizens.