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USCIS Expands Temporary Rule Providing Contract Interpreters for Asylum Interviews

-Editorial

To maintain the safety of our workforce and applicants during the global COVID-19 pandemic and to maintain efficiency and accessibility to the asylum process, USCIS published an updated temporary final rule (TFR) that extends the requirement that certain Asylum seekers use our telephone contract interpreters for their asylum interviews, rather than bringing an interpreter to the interview. This TFR is valid until September 18, 2021, and expands the requirements of the TFR that USCIS previously published on September 23, 2020.

“We are not making substantial changes to the TFR,” the press release said. 

USCIS contracted interpreters are available in 47 languages, listed on the TFR website.  There is no additional charge for using a government-provided interpreter.  If you do not speak English or any of the 47 languages ​​listed, you must bring your interpreter to your affirmative asylum interview.

In light of the pandemic and to protect its workforce and help mitigate the spread of COVID–19, USCIS temporarily suspended all face-to-face services with the public from March 18, 2020, to June 4, 2020. 

To promote safety as USCIS reopened offices to the public for in-person services and resumed necessary operations so that applicants for asylum and other USCIS immigration benefits could continue with their applications and petitions and not face adverse delays, USCIS implemented various mitigation efforts to protect the health and safety of the employees and the public, including Requiring facial covers for all employees and members of the public above the age of two; limiting the number of employees and members of the public in the office; conducting interviews from separate offices to ensure that employees are not in the same room as members of the public, and installing plexiglass where necessary to provide a barrier for employees when social distancing is not possible. Other mitigation efforts, such as mandatory temperature screening for visitors and voluntary checks for employees, were implemented in January 2021.

DHS implemented a temporary rule on September 23, 2020, to reduce visitors to asylum offices in support of the overall COVID–19 mitigation strategies described above. Between September 23, 2020, and March 10, 2021, USCIS conducted 7,764 asylum interviews. That temporary rule, along with other noted public safety measures, has been effective in keeping our workforce and the public safe. As of March 5, 2021, there have been 1,577 confirmed cases of COVID– 19 exposure among USCIS employees and contractors. The USCIS exposure rate (5.6%) remains below the national average (8.6%).

Therefore, DHS has determined that it is in the best interest of the public and USCIS employees and contractors to extend the temporary rule for another 180 days. Under this extension, asylum applicants who are unable to proceed with the interview in English will ordinarily be required to proceed with government-provided telephonic contract interpreters so long as they speak one of the 47 languages found on the Required Languages for Interpreter Services Blanket Purchase Agreement/ U.S. General Services Administration Language Schedule (‘‘GSA Schedule’’). 

If the applicant does not speak a language on the GSA Schedule or elects to speak a language that is not on the GSA Schedule, the applicant will be required to bring his or her interpreter to the interview who is fluent in English and the elected language (not on the GSA schedule).

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