This guide describes what to expect during an interview for U.S. refugee resettlement with USCIS.
If you are being considered for resettlement to the U.S., you will have at least two interviews. First you will have a pre-screening interview with the resettlement support center (RSC).
Then you will have an interview with an officer from the U.S. government. The officer is called a Refugee Officer. The interview is called the USCIS Interview. This is a very important interview. This interview will determine if the U.S. government approves your refugee case and that you are eligible for resettlement to the United States. If your interview is taking place at UNHCR, then it is not the USCIS interview.
Why are you being interviewed?
The purpose of the RSC pre-screening interview is to gather all of your biodata and other information to prepare for the USCIS interview. The employee at the RSC may ask for your biodata and the biodata of all of your family members on your case, and collect documents that are important for your case.
The purpose of the USCIS interview is to determine if you meet the definition of a refugee under U.S. law. The officer is also determining if you can be accepted to the U.S. under U.S. immigration law.
Step 1: RSC interview
Your interview with the RSC is to gather the data for you and all of your family members on your case and gather a summary of your case history. The RSC employee will ask a few questions about why you left your country to learn about your family and to learn your story. All of the information that you share in your pre-screening interview will be shared with the USCIS officer.
How to Prepare For Your RSC Interview
Your pre-screening interview is a basic interview to gather information about your case for USCIS. You should bring all your identity documents to your pre-screening interview including your UNCHR documents and all birth and marriage documents. You are entitled to an interpreter during the pre-screening interview. Request an interpreter if you do not understand the RSC employee. The RSC will also take your photo during the pre-screening process.
Step 2: USCIS Interview
How to prepare for your USCIS interview
You will be contacted by the resettlement support center (RSC) who conducted your pre-screening interview. RSCs include IOM, ICMC, CWS, IRC, and HIAS. Your RSC will let you know where and when the USCIS interview will take place. It is common for the interview to be delayed or cancelled. There could be many reasons why this happens. It does not mean that there is something wrong with your case. Unfortunately, if the interview is delayed or cancelled, you have to wait for the RSC to reschedule the interview.
Before your USCIS interview you should sit down and write a summary of the events that led to you having to flee your country. You should write them down in the order they happened.. This can include the dates you fled your home or the dates you received threats. Some of these events may bring up bad or difficult memories, but it is important to be ready to speak about them to the Refugee Officer. You do not have to write this in English, you can write this in any language. If you cannot write, you can ask a friend or relative to help you, or draw simple pictures of events to help you remember.
Do not bring what you wrote down to your interview. It is only to help you prepare to tell your story during your interview.
Who and what to bring to the interview. Every person on your case file needs to attend the interview. This includes babies and young children unless the RSC tells you otherwise. Bring the following documents to your interview, if they apply to your situation:
- The identification documents of everyone on your case file.
- UNHCR registration document.
- Military-related documents such as a military book and military ID. If you served in the military, bring all your military documentation, such as a military book or card. If you served in the military but you do not have any documents, be ready to explain why you do not have them.
Any documents or evidence that show why you are afraid to return to your country. This could include:
- Medical reports if you were attacked and needed medical attention.
- Police reports.
- Threatening letters or text messages.
- Family documents like a family book, birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates.
- Legal documents showing any criminal or arrest record, such as arrest or bail documents, court orders, and receipts of any fees paid.
Waiting for your interview. Once you arrive at the interview location, you may have to wait for a long time before your interview begins. You may also want to bring food and water and reading materials or quiet toys for your children to play with while waiting.
No smoking. You will not be able to smoke for several hours. You may wait inside the building for several hours before and after your interview. When you are inside, there is a strict no-smoking rule. You should be prepared not to smoke from 7:30 am to 6 pm.
Beginning of the USCIS interview
The USCIS Refugee Officer may interview all members of your family. They may even ask children questions about their case. You can ask to be interviewed separately from family members if you are not comfortable speaking in front of your family. You should answer every question truthfully. Giving wrong information can lead to your case being denied. If you do not know the answer to a question you can tell the Refugee Officer you do not know or do not remember something.
The Refugee Officer may ask about all of the family’s personal information, including:
- Full names.
- Tribal names.
- Exact dates of birth for everyone on the case file.
- Family composition. The Officer will ask about your parents, siblings, and children, and where they all live now.
- Addresses you have lived at in any country where you have lived.
- Education and employment history.
- Phone number and social media history.
- When major life events happened, like births, marriages, and when you moved or faced threats.
If any of the information is not correct, you should tell the Refugee Officer that the information is wrong, and you should give the correct information.
The Refugee Officer will ask a lot of “Yes or No” questions that might seem strange. This is normal. They are required to ask these questions to everyone. Some questions that you might be asked include:
- Do you plan to go to the U.S. to take part in terrorism?
- Do you plan to go to the U.S. to hurt someone?
- Do you plan to go to the U.S. to become a prostitute?
- Do you plan to go to the U.S. to break any laws?
The Refugee Officer will ask many questions about security and military history. Some questions that you might be asked include:
- Did you ever receive weapons training?
- Did you ever carry a weapon?
- When and where did you serve in the military? What was the name of your unit? What tasks were you assigned to do while you were in the military?
- Have you ever supported a terrorist group or any militia?
Substance of the interview
Usually, most questions will be answered by the principal applicant on the case. This is often the person that UNHCR or the RSC has been in touch with. However, the Refugee Officer may request to interview other family members separately.
The Refugee Officer will ask you about why you left your home country and why you are afraid to return.
The Refugee Officer will ask you about when you or your family were harmed, including:
- Where and when these events occurred.
- Who was with you, who targeted you or harmed you, and why you were targeted or harmed.
If you do not know the specific details, provide information about what you do know. For example, if you do not know the specific date, explain what season it was in or if it was before or after a significant political event. Do not make up specific dates if you are not sure.
When you explain to the officer why you fear for your safety in your country, or why you were targeted in the past, make sure to explain to the officer any facts or information about your country that would help them understand your situation.
Other subjects you may be asked during the interview include:
- Whether you served in the military and what you did when you were in the military.
- Whether you were ever arrested, charged, or convicted of crimes in the past.
- Your previous work, especially if you worked for the government of the country that you are fleeing from.
- Whether you belonged to any political party, even if you were forced to join the party.
- If you ever applied for a visa to come to the U.S. in the past. This includes applying for a diversity visa, called the “visa lottery.” If you ever applied for or even started an electronic application for a visa to the U.S., you must tell the officer about that application.
The Refugee Officer may ask you many questions about the same topic or ask you the same question over again. Sometimes the Refugee Officer might read back to you two statements that you made and ask you to explain more.
- The Refugee Officer’s focus on this area might be because they believe you gave different information earlier in the interview or in a previous interview with UNHCR or the RSC. The Refugee Officer might be asking you to let you clarify the contradiction.
If you are giving different information from a previous interview, explain why.
- For example, if you said that you experienced threats in 2011, but you remember that those events were in 2012, explain that you had given the incorrect date, but now remember the correct date.
- If you have difficulty remembering details because you were hurt in the past or it is difficult to speak about, you can explain this to the Refugee Officer.
- The Refugee Officer might also have read information about your country that is different than what you said in your interview. Explain your story truthfully. For example, if you said you are attacked because of your religion, and the officer read a report that people of your religion are safe in your country, explain specifically why you are afraid that you will be hurt.
The Refugee Officer may ask whether you belonged to or helped any armed groups. This includes:
- Paying a ransom to an armed group.
- Buying supplies from an armed group.
- Providing food, water, or shelter to an armed group.
Be sure to fully explain to the Refugee Officer the circumstances in which you helped an armed group. For example, explain to the Refugee Officer:
- If the armed group forced you to provide support.
- If the armed group threatened to harm you or your family if you did not provide support.
- If you did not know at the time that the people you helped were part of an armed group.
End of the interview
The Refugee Officer will not be able to give you a decision on your case the same day. Instead, you will get a letter later telling you the results. If you are approved, you still must wait to travel. You can only travel after the U.S. government has conducted security checks and you complete a medical exam. You may be contacted to complete medical exams before a decision is issued on your case. If you are contacted for medical exams or cultural orientation this does not mean your case has been approved. In some locations medical exams and cultural orientation happen before the U.S. government has made a decision in your case.
The officer also cannot tell you when to expect the decision. Every case is different and takes a different amount of time. Sometimes decisions can take many months or many years.
Working with an interpreter
You have a right to an interpreter during your USCIS interview. If you have an interpreter during your interview, answer the questions in short sentences. This will help the interpreter to interpret everything exactly as you say it. Give the interpreter time to interpret all the details of your story to the Officer.
You should tell the officer if:
- You have problems understanding the interpreter.
- You think the interpreter may not understand you.
- The interpreter is not fully translating what you have said.
- The interpreter says something to you that is disrespectful or not appropriate.
It can be difficult to tell the Refugee Officer that you are having a problem with the interpreter, especially if the interpreter has to be the one to help you communicate. You can explain to the Refugee Officer why you are not comfortable with the interpreter, and what specific problem you are having. The interpreter does not discuss your case with the Refugee Officer or have a part in making a decision on your case. The interpreter will not discuss your case outside the interview. They are required to keep your information confidential.
In the beginning of the interview it is likely that all your family members will be present. If there is anything that you are asked that you are uncomfortable sharing in front of your family, tell the officer that you would rather talk about this in private. This is better than leaving out important details or saying, “I don’t know.”
Everything you share with the Refugee Officer should be treated as confidential information and is not shared without your permission.
How to respond to questions when you do not know the answer. If you are asked a question and you do not know the answer, do not guess or provide incorrect information.
- If you do not remember some details, explain as much as you do know. Then explain why you do not remember the rest. It is better to say you do not remember or you do not know and explain why.
- For example, if they ask you what date something happened, and you remember only that it was in summer 2013, tell them it was summer 2013 rather than giving a specific date.
- If you need a break, you can ask for one. It is not rude or impolite to ask for a short break during the interview. It is important for you to feel comfortable telling your whole story. If you are upset or uncomfortable, ask for a short break to calm down and recollect your thoughts.
- Do not leave anything out. Make sure you tell the officer everything that they ask you about. Answer the officer’s questions and focus on the issue that the officer asked about.
- Always be truthful. Whatever they ask you about, always tell the truth. If you are afraid that your answer may hurt your case, it is still better to tell the truth. You can then explain why this detail should not hurt your case. The officer may deny your case if you give wrong information.
Asking for help
You or your relative may want to ask an immigration attorney for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
- Information about asking for help from IRAP is here.
- If you are in Jordan, you can ask for IRAP Jordan’s help using this form. If the form is closed, you can check back at a later date.
- A list of free immigration legal service providers in the United States is available here. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here. Please note that private immigration attorneys may charge a fee for their services. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.
Ask for help from "Beporsed"
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For more information
For more information on immigration, resettlement, education and scholarship programs, and other opportunities available to Afghans worldwide, as well as details on the humanitarian services provided by international organizations in Afghanistan and procedures for obtaining civil documents from governmental institutions, please visit Beporsed's website and social media pages.