If you have received your USCIS interview notice for an asylum, green card or naturalization application, congratulations! Please be proud of yourself for getting to this step, as the journey to this moment may not have been an easy one. Even though this means you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the interview itself may still be a stressful process. There are some details to which we still need to pay extra attention in order to ensure a successful interview with USCIS. The most important thing to remember is to give yourself credit for whatever journey you have taken to arrive at this moment and to be prepared to share your relevant life experiences with the immigration officer. You will also need to remember to remain truthful throughout the interview process. There is never any need to over-embellish, nor should you withhold relevant information from the officer, even if it is not positive information.
Before the Interview
Before the interview, you should carefully check all the documents that you have submitted to USCIS before. Has anything changed during the time period leading up to the interview? For example, have you recently changed your address (and if so, have you reported this change by filing an AR-11 with USCIS)? You should prepare to report these changes to the officer during the interview, especially if the changes are recent and the officer may not yet be aware of them. If you see any mistakes in your legal documents, such as a misspelling in your name or a typo in your birth date, you should try to amend these mistakes during the interview with the officer. Note that if the mistake was made by the government, most of the time the officer should not become frustrated with you for bringing up this issue and may even thank you for doing so. However, if you had made a mistake, the USCIS officer may not always reciprocate graciously, even though you should still bring up the issue to avoid having the error repeated. Finally, if you have received any notice from USCIS requesting for evidence, you will also want to make sure to bring to the interview the notice as well as any supporting documents you had previously provided.
What to Bring
Having your photo identification with you is important as well, such as your federal or state ID, passport, or driver’s license. If you had entered with a US visa and received an I-94, you may want to have them with you by bringing your passport. If you have an Employment Authorization Document (or EAD), you should have that with you. If you are going to a green card interview, the officer will take your EAD. You need to make sure to get an I-551L stamp in your passport or an approval letter. If you are going to a naturalization interview followed by a naturalization ceremony, the officer may also take your EAD and your green card but you will no longer need any EAD or any additional proof for employment since you can work freely in the US after becoming a US citizen.
Talk to Your Lawyer
You may want to talk to your lawyer before the interview. Even though the USCIS officer’s questions during the interview could be random, an experienced immigration lawyer could give you sample questions that have been asked before and help you practice answering these questions ahead of time.
Please be mindful that any sample questions from your lawyer are only meant to help you get ready. You should never memorize your answers as that approach is generally not helpful when going into an interview, since you may end up answering different questions incorrectly and appearing evasive to the officer. Unless you are preparing for a naturalization interview, for which you actually would need to memorize your answers to the 100 questions on your civic portion of the citizenship exam, you should simply review your own case file carefully and be prepared to answer questions about yourself truthfully.
During the Interview
Please remember to tell the truth. Generally, in any official proceeding with a government agency such as USCIS, you will be placed under oath at the start of the process. Lying will surely lead you down a path of greater problems than whatever information you deem negative enough to hide in the first place. Sometimes, even though you are doing your best to tell the truth, nerves and the many questions from the interview officer, his/her tone, or even his/her body language can make you feel even more nervous such that you begin to doubt yourself. If this happens, as discussed at the beginning of this article, try to take a deep breath and remember to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Do not become too nervous or intimidated. Most of the time, USCIS officers are not looking to pick you apart without a reason to do so. The officer is simply doing his/her job and collecting additional facts about your case, and they are looking for corroboration to make sure that you are stating everything consistently with what they have reviewed in your file.
Sometime you may encounter questions that appear out of the blue with nothing to do with your situation. If you do not know the answer, simply inform the officer as such or that the questions do not apply to you. If a question crosses the line and makes you feel offended (e.g. intimate questions about a married couple that go beyond the norm), you may want to inform the officer that you have already addressed earlier questions sufficiently and that you request to see a senior officer to better understand whether this line of questioning is appropriate .
If you are applying for a marriage-based green card, the questions from the USCIS officer can get very personal. Most of these questions are just to make sure that your marital relationship is not fabricated. Answering these questions honestly is important, especially if you and your spouse are interviewed separately. However, if you feel that an officer is acting unprofessionally, you should not be afraid to request the attention of a more senior officer or, if your attorney is present with you during the interview, have your attorney do so on your behalf.
Other Practical Tips
Being calm and polite throughout the interview will help a lot. Wearing a formal business attire is not required but will definitely help leave a good impression. If you or your spouse are currently serving in the US military, for example, consider putting on your uniform to help give you confidence and leave a good impression. Make sure to talk politely and calmly. Remember that most USCIS officers want to help you and are simply trying to do their jobs right. Bringing your lawyer with you to the interview can also help you gain confidence and remain calm. If you have complicating factors in your case, having your lawyer present may be crucial. Your lawyer can also help by documenting the questions and answers in the interview process, and making sure that you are answering everything clearly and accurately.
After the Interview
Sometimes you may learn the result of your interview immediately, although oftentimes you do not. A successful interview will most likely conclude your application process and secure you the status for which you had applied. However, if you were not successful, do not panic and talk to your lawyer to figure out your available legal options. You may be able to appeal the denial from USCIS, so do not lose hope. Good luck!