Prepare for an asylum interview
The asylum interview (or ‘substantive interview’) is an important step in your application for refugee status - it’s a chance for you to put your case across to someone from the Home Office. They’ll make a decision based on what you say.
Your interview will happen some time after your ‘screening’ - it could be anything from a week to a year or even later. The Home Office will send you a letter telling you when your interview will be.
It’s really important that you get advice from an immigration specialist before your interview. Your case is more likely to be successful if the evidence you have is prepared properly - it’s hard to do this on your own.
As an asylum seeker, you might be entitled to legal aid (depending on your savings and income). If you get legal aid, you won’t have to pay for legal advice. If you’re eligible, don’t let anyone charge you - you’ll spend money for no reason.
Before the interview
You should ask for the interview to be recorded. You must do this at least 24 hours before the interview.
It’s a good idea, just in case:
- an interpreter makes a mistake
- you’re not sure whether you mentioned something
Your interview letter will tell you how to do this, or you can contact your local Citizens Advice if you need help.
You can also ask for a male or female interviewer (and interpreter, if you need one) - do whatever makes you feel more comfortable.
Send a written statement
It’s a good idea to send a written statement to support your claim before your interview - it doesn’t matter whether you have a lawyer. It’s a chance for you to tell the Home Office more about your background before the interview.
Your interview letter will tell you how to send the statement. You should include:
- why you’re afraid of returning to your home country
- what happened to you (and when)
Make sure everything you say matches up to what you said at your screening interview - the Home Office could use it against you if something you say doesn’t match.
You’ll have to travel to your interview - they usually take place in big cities like Belfast, London, Leeds and Liverpool.
If you’re receiving Asylum Support, you should be sent a travel ticket. It may not arrive until the day before your interview. If it doesn’t arrive, call the number on your interview letter.
If you have small children
If you have small children, they may be distracting for your interviewer - even if you’re applying on their behalf.
Try finding a friend to look after your children - if you can’t find anyone, call the number on your interview letter. They’ll either:
- reschedule a new date when you can find childcare
- find childcare for you that’s close to the interview
What to take with you
Your interview can’t go ahead if you don’t take all of these with you (or whichever documents you have):
- your application registration card (ARC)
- your passport or travel document
- a police registration certificate
- a birth certificate
- evidence of where you’re living - for example a utility bill
At the interview
The interview is your chance to talk about everything that’s led to you applying for asylum. It’s likely to be emotional for you, but it’s important that you’re honest throughout.
There’s no set time for how long the interview can take - it could last a few hours.
If you sent in a written statement beforehand, the questions will be based around the information you gave. You should also expect the interviewer to ask questions about:
- why you’ve left your home country
- why your home country is dangerous for you
- how you got to the UK
- when you got the UK
You can’t take anyone else to the interview (eg a friend or family member). It’ll just be you, the interviewer and the interpreter (if you have one).
If you don’t know how to answer a question
It’s fine to tell the interview that you don’t know the answer to a question - it’s better to say “I don’t know” rather than guess. Or if there’s something you’re not comfortable answering, you can say you don’t want to answer.
Ask for a break if you need one - the interviewer should understand.
After the interview
You have 5 days after the interview to send in a statement (or ‘make representations’) - you can mention anything you didn’t talk about during the interview. You’ll be told how to do this after the interview.
To make your statement, take the following steps:
- Listen back to the recording of the interview, if you have one.
- Check that nothing was misinterpreted (eg by an interpreter).
- Think about everything that you wanted to mention on the day - and make sure you covered anything that would help your case.
- Include anything you missed out in the statement.
You’ll be told where to send the statement on the day of the interview.
What happens next
You’ll get a letter in the post from the Home Office. If you don’t hear within the first 30 days, you’re unlikely to hear for another 6 months (or more) - even though the Home Office will tell you they have a target of 30 days.
If you have a specialist (or lawyer), they should be writing to the Home Office every 3 months. Ask them to contact the Home Office regularly if they’re not doing this already.
You’re entitled to Asylum Support (housing and a welfare benefit) until you get your decision. You won’t be deported while you’re still waiting for your decision.