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In a recent announcement, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued a crucial reminder for affirmative asylum applicants: beginning September 13, 2023, applicants must bring an interpreter to their asylum interview if they are not fluent in English or prefer to proceed in a language other than English. This directive applies to applicants who wish to ensure a smooth communication process during their asylum interviews.

However, there is an exception to this rule: sign language interpreters. USCIS will continue to provide sign language interpreters as a disability accommodation. To avail of this service, applicants are instructed to follow the guidelines specified in their interview notice.

It is imperative for applicants to understand the consequences of non-compliance with this requirement. If an applicant fails to bring an interpreter or if the provided interpreter is not proficient in both English and the applicant’s preferred language, and the applicant fails to establish a valid reason, USCIS reserves the right to consider it a failure to appear for the interview. In such cases, the asylum application may be dismissed, or it could be referred to an immigration judge for further review. The determination of a valid reason will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, USCIS has outlined specific criteria for interpreters. The chosen interpreter must be fluent in both English and the applicant’s preferred language and must be at least 18 years old. However, certain individuals are prohibited from acting as interpreters during the asylum interview. These include the applicant’s attorney or accredited representative, witnesses testifying on the applicant’s behalf, representatives or employees of the government of the applicant’s country of nationality (or, if the applicant is stateless, the country of their last habitual residence), and individuals with pending asylum applications who have not yet been interviewed.

This update follows a series of temporary measures that were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On September 23, 2020, USCIS introduced a temporary final rule (TFR) mandating the use of contracted telephonic interpreters for asylum interviews. This measure was taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 during interviews conducted by USCIS asylum officers, aligning with the national and public health emergencies in effect at the time. Subsequently, four extensions of this requirement were published, with the latest extension set to expire on September 12, 2023. As of September 13, 2023, USCIS will revert back to the longstanding regulatory requirement, stated under 8 CFR 208.9(g), wherein affirmative asylum applicants must provide their interpreters for the interviews.

This change underscores the importance of effective communication in the asylum application process. Asylum seekers are encouraged to be diligent in meeting the new interpreter requirements to ensure their applications are processed smoothly and efficiently, facilitating a fair and comprehensive evaluation of their cases by USCIS officials.