New USCIS Rule on Contract Asylum Interview Interpreters Through March 21, 2021

On September 23, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented a temporary final rule [link] requiring the use of interpreters at USCIS asylum interviews in the midst of ongoing disruptions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In its news release [link] on the interim final rule, the USCIS explains that asylum applicants who need an interpreter in one of 47 specified languages will be required to use a USCIS contract interpreter at their interview instead of bringing their own. The USCIS states that this policy is effective until March 22, 2021. Below, you will find the list of 47 languages covered by the new USCIS contract interpreter policy:

Akan; Albanian; Amharic; Arabic; Armenian; Azerbaijani; Bengali; Burmese; Cantonese; Creole/Haitian Creole; Farsi-Afghani/Dari; Farsi-Iranian; Foo Chow/Fuzhou; French; Georgian; Gujarati; Hindi; Hmong; Hungarian; Indonesia/Bahasa; Konjobal; Korean; Kurdish; Lingala; Mam; Mandarain; Nepali; Pashto/Pushtu; Portuguese; Punjabi; Quiche/K'iche; Romanian; Russian; Serbian; Sinhalese; Somali; Spanish; Swahili; Tagalog; Tamil; Tigrinya; Turkish; Twi; Ukrainian; Urdu; Uzbek; Vietnamese.

For asylum applicants who need an interpreter in one of the above 47 languages, the USCIS will provide a contract interpreter for the interview free of charge. The USCIS news release assures applicants and stakeholders that “USCIS contract interpreters are carefully vetted and must meet high standards of competency.” It is important to note that the use of a contract interpreter, if an interpreter in one of these languages is needed, will be mandatory through March 22, 2021. Applicants will not be permitted to bring their own interpreters. The USCIS states that refusal to use a USCIS contract interpreter to proceed with an asylum interview will be considered failure to appear for the interview, and the USCIS would either dismiss the asylum application or refer the applicant to immigration court for removal proceedings.

In the rare case that the asylum applicant is not fluent in English or any of the 47 languages covered by the USCIS contract interpreter interim final rule, the asylum applicant must bring his or her own interpreter to the interview who is fluent in both the applicant's native language and English. Any such interpreter must be 18 years old or older and cannot be the applicant's legal representative or an employee of the applicant's country of nationality (or, if the applicant is stateless, the applicant's last country of habitual residence). If the applicant cannot find an interpreter who meets these criteria, the USCIS states that the applicant may provide an interpreter who is fluent in the applicant's native language and one of the 47 languages covered in the USCIS's contract interpreter interim final rule, and a USCIS contract interpreter will act as “a relay interpreter to interpret between [one of the 47 languages] and English.

The USCIS states that if an applicant needs a USCIS contract interpreter to go forward with his or her interview, but no contract interpreter is available at the time of the interview, the USCIS will reschedule the asylum interview. That interview delay will be attributed to the USCIS, not to the applicant, for purpose of eligibility for employment authorization under 8 CFR 208.7.

Beginning on March 22, 2021, all asylum applicants who are unable to proceed with an asylum interview in English will again be required to provide their own interpreters. We discussed the generally applicable policies for qualified interpreters for USCIS interviews in a separate article [see article].