Letters from Witnesses

by Jason Dzubow on August 16, 2012

One key piece of evidence in most asylum cases is the witness letter.  Under the REAL ID Act, asylum applicants are required to obtain evidence where such evidence is reasonably available.  Often times, the only evidence that is reasonably available is a letter from a witness.  So what makes a good witness letter?

First, the witness needs to identify herself and state how she knows the applicant.  While this may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many witnesses don’t include this information.  I prefer that the witness states her name, address, phone number, and email address.  Then she should describe how she knows the applicant (for example, “Mr. X and I met in the church choir in 2003.”).

There’s no excuse for failing to get witness letters.

Next, the witness should list what they know about the applicant’s claim–here, the attorney should emphasize to the witness (or the applicant who will relay it to the witness) that she should focus on the legally relevant facts.  Extraneous material is a distraction.  I can’t tell you how many witness letters I’ve seen where the witness rambles on about how he hopes everything is fine in America and that he is praying for the applicant.  Who cares?  Instead, the witness should mention what he or she knows about the case.  One way to start this section of the letter is like this: “Mr. X asked me to write what I know about his problems in Cameroon.  Here is what I know…”

Also, I prefer that the witness write about what she has seen with her own eyes.  Did the witness see the applicant engage in political activity?  Did she see the applicant get arrested?  Did she see the applicant’s injuries after he was released from detention?  The witness should write what she saw (and the date that she saw it).  Secondhand information is admissible, but most fact finders will give such information little weight.

I also hate when witnesses give me general statements, like “Please don’t return to Ethiopia, it is dangerous here.”  Not helpful.  We want specific information about why it is dangerous, not general, conclusory statements that really tell us nothing.  A better letter might say, “Please don’t return to Ethiopia, as the police came to the house on March 4, 2012 and they asked about you.”

My clients often ask about how long the letter should be.  My hope is that the letters will be under one page, though sometimes more space is necessary if a witness has a lot of information.  I prefer that the witness gets to the point and doesn’t waste time with irrelevant information, so hopefully that leads to shorter letters.  Also, the longer the letter, the greater the possibility for inconsistencies.

Finally, I prefer that the witness include a copy of her photo ID (passport, work ID, school ID, etc.).  Also, if the witness and the applicant know each other from school, for example, it would be nice to have some evidence that the witness attended the school (like a transcript).  Of course, this assumes that the applicant has also included evidence that he attended that school.  

One final note about witness letters.  Unless they are consistent with the applicant’s affidavit, they will harm the case.  I would rather submit no letter than an inconsistent letter.  For this reason, it is important to compare the witness letters with the applicant’s affidavit (and his other evidence) to ensure consistency.  While people often have different recollections of events–even dramatic events–the fact finder in an asylum case will likely draw a negative inference from inconsistent statements, and this could cause the application to be denied as not credible.

Witness letters are often crucial to a successful asylum application.  A well-crafted letter will help your client’s case and could make the difference between a grant and a denial.

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas November 26, 2017 at 10:48 am

Good day. I am a 31 year old gay guy. I applied for asylum in August 2017 in Orlando FL. Just after that l met a guy who is now my husband but we moved to Pensacolla FL this week because of work. Since l used Orlando address for applying my asylum, does it matter if l file for marriage based greencard using his current address. What should we do. Thank you


Jason Dzubow November 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm

If you moved, you should update your address with the asylum office using form AR-11, available at http://www.uscis.gov. And (assuming you are eligible) you can apply for the marriage-based green card using your current address. Be aware that sometimes an asylum case interferes with a marriage case, and if your GC case becomes delayed, you might want to talk to a lawyer or contact the local asylum office to see if they can help with the problem (you may need to withdraw your asylum case, but I think it is safer not to withdraw unless you have to). Take care, Jason


Kerrian mcmahon October 24, 2017 at 8:43 pm

Do I put my address on the top right hand corner when writing a witness letter or in other words how do I format the letter in terms of whose adress goes where


Jason Dzubow October 25, 2017 at 6:21 am

There is no required format. As long as all the info is there and it looks presentable, it should be fine. Take care, Jason


Kerrian mcmahon October 25, 2017 at 10:13 am

How many pages should a letter of declaration have and how long will I have to wait to do a biometrics after my asylum application was lodged.in the immigration court my clock is now 70 days yet I haven’t received my biometrics notice


Jason Dzubow October 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm

You can Google “Defensive asylum in immigration court” and you should find the instructions for requesting biometrics for a case in court. You have to submit that to get the biometrics; you will not receive an appointment just by filing the I-589 with the court. As for the length of the declaration, it depends what you need to say. We have written them anywhere from 3 or 4 pages to 40 pages. We try to keep it in the range of 8 to 10 pages, if possible, but it completely depends on the case. Take care, Jason


Kerrian mcmahon October 26, 2017 at 9:07 pm

I am a lgbt asylum application defensive in immigration court now I have to compile letter from people that know am a gay or.if I confided in someone about a dangerous incident that person is required to write a letter or if someone witness a mistreatment how much letter maximum u think is good because I don’t have any contact with people in my country

Shura November 7, 2017 at 5:58 am

Hi Kerrian

I too am a lgbt asylum seeker from Jamaica. Can i have your email address. I would like to ask you a couple questions about your experience.


Kerrian mcmahon November 7, 2017 at 8:47 am

Hi Shura nice to meet you my email address is kerrianmcmahon@yahoo.com looking forward to hear from you

Tamar October 22, 2017 at 9:24 am

I applied for my political asylum.case a little late, four months after one year deadline but I was in bed, traumas a lot, though I did not go to doctors here, just in my country, I have medical records a momth early before I left, then my knee got fluid inside and I had fevers for months here, I was putting some waxy pads on it, I could not walk, I have two american citizen letters verifying it. Can I get status at the interview as I was told only judge can do it as I applied late


Jason Dzubow October 22, 2017 at 10:43 am

If the Asylum Officer accepts your health problems as “extraordinary circumstances” excusing the one-year filing deadline, the Asylum Officer can grant your case. The more evidence you have on this point, the better. I will say that judges are more likely than Asylum Officers to find an exception to the one-year bar, but you can try and hopefully, that will work. Take care, Jason


getachew October 20, 2017 at 9:54 am

It is a wonderful article; Let me thank you sir for your effort. And I have a question. Can the witness be my girl friend or my wife? thank you very much. And may i contact you? for help.


Jason Dzubow October 20, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Anyone can write a letter. But hopefully your girlfriend and your wife do not know about each other, as they might not write such nice letters (hee hee). You can email me if you need a consultation: jdzubow@dzubowlaw.com. Take care, Jason


Emmy September 13, 2017 at 2:02 am

Hi Jason, many thanks for this wonderful article. my question is, can i submit affidavit of Marriage in place of Marriage certificate?


Jason Dzubow September 13, 2017 at 6:40 am

For some purposes, that might work, but I think you will have a difficult time if you want to use that to bring your spouse to the US or to prove that your marriage is true for immigration purposes. Take care, Jason


Emmy September 13, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Thank you Jason


mankind September 10, 2017 at 10:26 am

thanks a lot , very interesting article ,
would like to know, if my ex partner can also write a witness letter to also prove I was dating him , and can it also help for my asylum application to be granted ?


Jason Dzubow September 11, 2017 at 6:11 am

He can, and if that is relevant to your asylum application, such a letter should help your case. Other people who know about the relationship can also write letters. Take care, Jason


Maelma August 19, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Hi Jason,

thank you for helping us in this difficult season. on the witness letters it is something i did not know about and thanks to you, i filed for asylum in October 2016 and i did not submit any witness letters. my question is can i get witness letters still and if i get them do i wait until i get called for interview and take them with me to the interview and on another note do i need to find a lawyer to help me with my case, what are the chances of being granted asylum if i applied on my own. i cannot afford a lawyer.


Jason Dzubow August 21, 2017 at 6:17 am

I wrote about lawyers on July 7, 2016 – maybe that would help. Letters can be submitted prior to the interview. In my office (Virginia), all letters and additional evidence must be submitted at least one week before the interview, but different asylum offices have different rules, so you have to contact them to ask. You can find their contact info if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator. Take care, Jason


Mohammad Bilal July 20, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Hi i filled my application 6 months ago with evidence, can i send them witness letter now to make my case even powerful.


Jason Dzubow July 21, 2017 at 6:34 am

Yes – you should submit all evidence prior to the interview (different offices have different rules about this – our office requires documents to be submitted at least one week before the interview). Keep a copy of everything you submit, and if you mail it, keep the mailing/post office receipt. That way, if they lose it, you will have evidence that you sent it. Take care, Jason


Tatianna July 6, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Hie Jason

I found your articles very informative and helpful. i am kindly requesting your assistance and i will go straight to the point.

Are these valid reasons for expediting my asylum case?

1) Can i mention this as a humanitarian ground for expediting a case?
i left my husband back home however we are customarily married (no marriage certificate, he paid lobola/bride price to my parents as an african culture ) thus, i still use my surname/last name.

2) When i came i was already pregnant and i delivered here in the USA on December 1, 2016. My daughter uses her father’s last name. Will it be valid reason to say that i need his father to come and be a family raising our child together and attach the birth certificate as proof? the other thing is that raising a child on my own here in America is very expensive worse if i am single. Can i state this?

3) My mother was on my Medical Aid when i was at home since i was working, she is diabetic. when i was nolonger on the payroll, she ceased to have medical attention too. now she hardly gets her monthly pills for diabetes and no longer goes for her medical check up since i am here and financially unstable. Can i use this as a ground too?

4) I am financially very unstable when i was at home i could sustain my family’s needs especially the basics for instance food and medication but now its very impossible. Can i mention this too?

I would appreciate if you respond,

Thank you.


Jason Dzubow July 7, 2017 at 6:40 am

1 – Unless you are legally married with a marriage certificate, I think this is not a good reason to expedite, as you cannot bring him to the US if you win the case. 2 – Without a marriage certificate, you cannot bring him, even if you have a child together. 3 – I do not see why this is a basis to expedite your asylum case. 4 – If you can explain why you need asylum to become financially stable, maybe this would work as a reason to expedite. I do think you should try to legalize your marriage and get a marriage certificate. That will allow your husband to come here if you win the case, and it will make it easier to expedite your case. Maybe your husband can find his own way here (student visa, work visa, visitor visa, etc.). But without the legal marriage document, your asylum case cannot help him. Take care, Jason


Cindy June 21, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Thank you for your help.
I have a question about the witness letter.where does the letter addressed to?


Jason Dzubow June 23, 2017 at 6:18 am

It doesn’t matter. The witness can just write “To Whom It May Concern” or they can write to the Judge or Asylum Officer. Any of those is fine. Take care, Jason


Dan June 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Thanks your post is very helpful. Can my lawyer in my country of origin who witnessed all the incidence write one of the witness letter.


Jason Dzubow June 20, 2017 at 3:26 pm

Of course. Such a letter can be helpful, and he can include evidence that he is a lawyer (his law license for example). Take care, Jason


FT June 2, 2017 at 10:14 pm

one question please, do I need a lawyer to sign the affidavit from a friend?


Jason Dzubow June 5, 2017 at 6:08 am

You do not. For such letter/affidavits, it is a good idea to get the person’s photo ID or – if they are in the US – to have the letter notarized by a notary public (this is different from a lawyer and most banks provide this service for free or for a few dollars). Take care, Jason


FT June 2, 2017 at 9:46 pm

Hello, this article is very helpful, can i contact you for help please, this is my email monjuflora@yahoo.com


Jason Dzubow June 4, 2017 at 8:27 am

If you are asking to contact me, you can: jdzubow@dzubowlaw.com. Take care, Jason


EKK April 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm

I can’t thank you enough for all the golden, yet free information that gives me hope in such unpredictable backlog of assylum.


Suraj March 30, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Hi Jason,
Greetings again. My wife and my daughter they are back in my country of origin. And i am really worried about them but am confused if i should actually expedit my case or not which is in LA, CA. So what you’re saying here is that the witness who writes a letter has to write in a manner that the description is clearly about my incident and my reasons for seeking asylum in which she witnessed the wound and else that i suffered of which i fear and feel persecuted going back to my country? Is that the most strong document to present if my case gets expedited and i get an early call for the interview. I have submitted all the relevant documents along with the pictures of the state in which i was when i was attacked along with my asylum application. What do you suggest jason? Because i filed my case all by myself along with the full story describing it in full but now am considering to expedit it because the waiting time in LA is relatively much longer than most of the other states. Thank you and am really confused right now?


Jason Dzubow March 31, 2017 at 6:15 am

You can ask to expedite based on family separation. You need evidence about that (as discussed in an article from yesterday). As discussed in the above article, witness letters describing what people know about your problems are also helpful to a case. Take care, Jason


Sami October 22, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Hey Jason,

I cant enough to say thank you for your help. But i need one favor. Is there a posiblities to get one sample letter? I am waiting your reply.



Jason Dzubow October 23, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Sorry – I do not even give sample letters to my clients. The witness should write what he or she knows, and keep the letter relatively short, as discussed above. Take care, Jason


Fabiana August 6, 2016 at 8:15 pm

I found your article very helpful! Now I would like to ask you if the witness letters need to be hand written or can they be typed?


Jason Dzubow August 7, 2016 at 9:10 am

It doesn’t matter in terms of substance, but I strongly prefer typed so that the Asylum Officer or Judge can read it. Handwriting is usually too hard to read. It should be signed by hand. Take care, Jason


Tim July 25, 2016 at 11:47 am


I’m working on a letter for a friend seeking asylum. I was planning to have my letter notarized, but I am wondering if this is necessary or if copy of birth certificate and driver’s license is sufficient. Also, if notarized, what is a good format to include that?


Jason Dzubow July 25, 2016 at 10:08 pm

We typically do not get letters notarized, but there is no harm in that. There is also no official format, though they want to see the basic info (name, address, phone number of the letter writer, how the writer knows the applicant, what the writer knows about the case). Normally, we just include the photo ID and any other relevant evidence (for example, if the letter writer knows my client from university, we might include the writer’s university transcript to prove he was at the school at the same time as my client). Take care, Jason


Tim July 26, 2016 at 11:47 pm

Thank you so much.


Cris June 13, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Hi Jason,

I kindly want to ask if witness letters should be written in English or just with the local language back home and get translated here?

Which one is convenient for the interview officers?

Thank you for your reply



Jason Dzubow June 14, 2016 at 6:17 am

If the person speaks English, she can write the letter in English. Otherwise, we normally have the person write the letter in her native language and submit it with an English translation (and a certificate of translation). Also, we try to include a copy of the person’s photo ID. Take care, Jason


Lula Bahta July 14, 2016 at 7:53 am

Please I need help to write a support letter for my client for his court. Yes In English.

Thank you for your help.


David February 13, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Mr. Jason Dzubow, thank you the helpful and interesting articles. For witnesses who live outside the United States, is it necessary to submit an original with the original signature, or is a scanned copy okay?


Jason Dzubow February 15, 2016 at 8:59 am

It is nice to get the original if you can, but we normally submitted only scanned copies with a copy of the photo ID. Take care, Jason


Sam March 31, 2015 at 11:39 pm

Thanks for the important information. Do you have any suggestions as to how many letters from witnesses would be considered normally sufficient in an asylum case? I know “it depends” on each case buit would you say that 2 letters are fine or that 6 or 7 letters are too much?



Jason Dzubow April 1, 2015 at 6:31 am

There is no right answer, of course, but I think 1 letter is bad – that indicates that you know you are supposed to get letters, but you got only one. Our typical cases have three to five letters, but we have done cases where there were no letters or where there were 10 or more letters. We’ve even done cases with one letter. They key is that if there is a witness who is available to write a letter, the Asylum Officer may expect a letter from that person. So it is better to get the letter. Otherwise, you may need to explain why you failed to get it, and under the REAL ID Act, that could be a problem for the case.


watt August 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Actually i really enjoy the article and others on the blog.very helpful


Jason Dzubow October 27, 2017 at 6:29 am

There is no limit to the number of letters that you can submit, and it is important to gather whatever evidence you can to help support your case. You can also get letters from people in the US (or anywhere else), if they know about your case or your sexual orientation. Take care, Jason


Kerrian mcmahon October 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm

How long can a removal proceedings last providing u have applied for asylum. And what if u don’t have any one in your country that can provide a letter will that affect the case


Jason Dzubow October 27, 2017 at 5:15 pm

If you cannot get a letter, you may need to explain why you were unable to get it. The fact that you have no people in your country may be an explanation. As for the length of a removal hearing, it is very variable, but usually it is a couple hours. Take care, Jason


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