Who Can Be an Interpreter for a USCIS Interview?

If you are not fluent in English and you need to attend an interview at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office, you may need to bring your own interpreter. This person can act as an intermediary between you and the USCIS officer to facilitate communication.

There are exceptions to this rule, including removal (deportation) hearings, where an interpreter will be provided by the government, and naturalization (citizenship) interviews, where you are expected to have knowledge of and be tested on your English language ability unless you have applied for a waiver based on age or disability.

Generally, a disinterested party will serve as the interpreter for a USCIS interview. The interviewing officer at their discretion may decide to let a relative interpret. Usually, this is not the case, and the petitioning party cannot serve as the interpreter.

A USCIS officer will look to their Policy Manual training to determine who can be an interpreter at the USCIS interview. The Policy Manual says the following:

C. Interpreters

An applicant may not be fluent in English and may require use of an interpreter for the adjustment interview. At the adjustment interview, the interpreter should: 

  • Present his or her valid government-issued identity document and complete an interpreter’s oath and privacy release statement; and
  • Translate what the officer and the applicant say word-for-word to the best of his or her ability without adding the interpreter’s own opinion, commentary, or answer.

In general, a disinterested party should be used as the interpreter. An officer may exercise discretion, however, to allow a friend or relative of the applicant to act as interpreter. If the officer is fluent in the applicant’s preferred language, the officer may conduct the examination in that language without use of an interpreter. 

USCIS reserves the right to disqualify an interpreter provided by the applicant if the officer believes the integrity of the examination is compromised by the interpreter’s participation or the officer determines the interpreter is not competent to translate. 

Source: USCIS policy Manual Chapter 5 – Interview Guidelines (Dec 15, 2022)

Affirmative Asylum Interpreter Requirements

Starting from September 13, 2023, affirmative asylum applicants must bring an interpreter to their asylum interview if they are not proficient in English or prefer to use a language other than English during the interview.

Failing to do so, or bringing an interpreter who is not proficient in both English and the applicant’s language without good cause, may result in USCIS considering it as a failure to appear for the interview, potentially leading to the dismissal of the asylum application or its referral to an immigration judge. Good cause will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Key interpreter requirements include that the interpreter must be at least 18 years old, fluent in both English and the applicant’s language, and cannot be the applicant’s attorney, a witness testifying on the applicant’s behalf, a government representative of the applicant’s country of nationality (or last habitual residence if stateless), or an individual with a pending asylum application who has not yet been interviewed.

This change comes after a temporary rule was implemented in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring the use of contracted telephonic interpreters for asylum interviews. However, this requirement is set to expire on September 12, 2023, and USCIS will return to the previous regulatory requirement of asylum applicants providing their own interpreter as outlined in 8 CFR 208.9(g).

USCIS original notice:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reminds affirmative asylum applicants that, starting Sept. 13, 2023, you must bring an interpreter to your asylum interview if you are not fluent in English or wish to proceed with your interview in a language other than English.

If you need an interpreter and do not bring one, or if your interpreter is not fluent in English and a language you speak, and you do not establish good cause, we may consider this a failure to appear for your interview and we may dismiss your asylum application or refer your asylum application to an immigration judge. We will determine good cause on a case-by-case-basis.

The interpreter must be fluent in English and a language you speak fluently and must be at least 18 years old. The interpreter must not be:

Your attorney or accredited representative;
A witness testifying on your behalf;
A representative or employee of the government of your country of nationality (or, if you are stateless, your country of last habitual residence); or
An individual with a pending asylum application who has not yet been interviewed.
On Sept. 23, 2020, we published a temporary final rule (TFR) requiring affirmative asylum applicants to use our contracted telephonic interpreters for their asylum interviews, instead of bringing an interpreter to the interview. We published this TFR to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during asylum interviews with USCIS asylum officers while the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency were in effect. We published four subsequent TFRs extending the requirement, with the current extension effective through Sept. 12, 2023. This fourth extension provided additional time after the national and public health emergencies expired to allow us to prepare to return to the prior regulatory requirement. With the expiration of the TFR, we will be reverting back to the long-standing regulatory requirement for an affirmative asylum applicant to provide an interpreter under 8 CFR 208.9(g).

Source: USCIS, September 2023.


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