Premium Processing for Asylum Seekers

by Jason Dzubow on June 26, 2014

For certain applications with USCIS, the applicant can pay an additional fee of $1,000.00 and receive “premium processing.” For people seeking an H1B visa or a green card based on extraordinary ability, payment of the premium processing fee is the norm, and the result is that USCIS responds to the application (sometimes with an approval, other times with a request for additional evidence) within a few weeks. So should premium processing be available for people seeking asylum?

Waiting in line is a poor man's game.

Waiting in line is a poor man’s game.

There are certainly arguments against such a scheme: Humanitarian benefits should not be for sale, it is unfair to privilege wealthy applicants over poor applicants, asylum is somehow cheapened by making it more expensive. But given the current state of affairs in the asylum world, I think that USCIS should allow premium processing for asylum seekers who want it and can pay for it.

First, the current state of affairs: The asylum system is groaning under the weight of too many applications. Thousands of cases from 2013 are still lost in limbo, and–at least based on my observation of the local office here in Virginia–we seem to be on the verge of another slow down. People separated from family members have no recourse except to wait. And worse, they have no idea how long they will have to wait. The Asylum Offices have created “short lists” where (supposedly) you can put your name on a list, and if a slot opens up, you will be interviewed. So far, at least for my clients, this seems to work not at all. The bottom line is that we are facing very long delays and applicants and their family members are suffering severely.

So how would premium processing help?

Obviously, for those applicants who could pay the fee (whether $1,000.00 or some other amount), their cases would be given priority. This would benefit those applicants who pay the fee, but–if implemented correctly–it would also benefit people who do not pay the fee because the premium processing cases would be removed from the general queue, which would free up interview slots for everyone else.

Quantifying the effect of a premium processing fee is a bit tricky, however. For one thing, it is not easy to find asylum statistics from the government. A good guess is that between 3,500 and 4,000 people per month file affirmative asylum cases. That is approximately 40,000 people per year. If half those people paid a premium processing fee of $1,000.00, an additional $20 million would be pumped into the system. This would be a significant increase in funding. As best as I can tell, the budget for asylum and refugee operations for FY 2014 is about $236 million, so an additional $20 million for asylum operations alone would be a major increase (the asylum and refugee budget is paid for by USCIS application fees from non-asylum cases, so the cost to U.S. tax payers is minimal). With this additional money, the Asylum Offices could hire more officers, provide resources to expedite background checks, set up a system so applicants could track the progress of their cases, and even provide free donuts and coffee to attorneys waiting for their clients’ interviews. In other words, the money could be used to improve the system for everyone, including those who do not pay the fee.

Of course, we don’t know how many asylum applicants would (or could) pay a premium processing fee, but I suspect that many would pay. Remember that asylum applicants differ from refugees in that they have come to the United States on their own. Whether they came legally or illegally, it is likely that they paid for their journey here. Also, many asylum applicants pay attorneys or notarios to prepare their cases. My guess is that many such people would be happy to pay a fee if it meant that their cases would be adjudicated more quickly.

I must admit that I feel a bit uncomfortable about asking asylum applicants to pay the government to adjudicate their cases (which is maybe ironic, since I ask them to pay me). But given the difficulties caused by long delays (separation from family, stress, uncertainty), I feel that the benefits of a premium processing system would far outweigh any disadvantages.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Iraqi Asylum applicant December 26, 2016 at 10:24 am

Hi Jason,

Is the premium processing means that we can pay a fee to get our Asylum interview faster? I just found out about that premium processing. How long does it take if I pay the fee for the interview? Btw I applied for asylum back in July 2014.

Thank you very much!!


Iraqi Asylum applicant December 26, 2016 at 11:27 am

I’m sorry I had a misundersing!

Thank you!


Jason Dzubow December 28, 2016 at 8:07 am

No worries – it was just an idea I proposed, but it does not exist (yet). Take care, Jason


Nzair January 7, 2016 at 12:49 pm

I have contacted Newark office and lady was upset to ask such question relying i do not know where you got this information and that is not true , i applied on March 2014 and the only thing she said that they are still interviewing 2013 cases . i wonder if there is away to fasten the process as my brother died last week and i could not attend his funeral , i just can not live in this fear , Asylum is getting really tough , i live with my GF she is US citizen i wonder if marrying now will make any good and not gonna add insult to injury .


Jason Dzubow January 8, 2016 at 7:22 am

If you marry a US citizen, you are probably eligible to get your green card (though it depends on the case and you’d have to talk to a lawyer – but if you entered the US with a visa and you have not been arrested for a crime, you can most likely do it). Also, you can contact the office and ask that your case be expedited. They should be able to tell you about the process to request this. Take care, Jason


Pere July 31, 2014 at 11:24 am

Sharing my experience I was granted asylum in Nov 2013 after 5 years court processing and waiting.I flied 1-730 for my family in 12/2013 at Nebraska,Up to this date still in initial review.Any one has an idea how long this wait will be for families separated??


Fernando July 22, 2014 at 2:28 pm



Fernando July 18, 2014 at 11:02 am

Awesome blog, I wish I had found it before I went through the asylum process myself. Shameless request for free legal advice (and I won’t think any less of this blog if you choose not to respond, or erase this comment, or whatever): USCIS has a 90-day early filing rule for naturalization that allows residents to apply early to account for processing delays. Is the same true about asylees applying for permanent residence, or do we have to wait for the whole year to pass before we send in our paperwork? Thanks, and I’m a loyal reader from now on.


Jason Dzubow July 18, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Thank you. Here is your free advice: I always told asylees that they could file for the green card 30 days before the one-year anniversary of receiving asylum. However, we recently had someone denied for having applied too soon (or course it took them 3 or 4 months to deny). So now I think the safer approach is to apply after one year or more, not early. We still do apply for citizenship 90 days ahead of time. Take care, Jason


Jenber July 7, 2014 at 11:59 am

I will be the first person to tell the congress how the backlog is seriously affecting families from my personal experience if there is campaign on this issue as stated by Janson. Please do that and help a lot of families that could prove how usa values work


Jason Dzubow July 7, 2014 at 8:54 pm

We’ll see – I may try to organize something. If so, I will write a post about it.


Danimal July 5, 2014 at 4:28 am

Wouldn’t a premium processing fee help sort out applicants who benefit from delay from those who are harmed by it? If you’re filing an affirmative asylum application while still in status, it would be nice to be able to pay a fee to get your case determined while you’re still in status, so if your application is denied, you’re just denied and don’t automatically get put in removal proceedings. On the other hand, if you’re filing defensively, or affirmatively while out of status, delay in determination at least helps put off the day you’re ultimately removed, and you’re eligible for a work authorization after six months no matter how long your case ultimately takes. So defensive and out-of-status affirmative applicants are less hurt by delay and have less reason to want to pay a fee. Am I right?


Jason Dzubow July 7, 2014 at 8:53 pm

I am not sure I agree. If a person has a weak or frivolous case, and is not waiting to re-unite with family, the delay might benefit her as it gets her more time in the US. But for people missing their families, or who hope to resolve their cases and move on with their lives, the delay is a real tragedy, whether the case is affirmative or defensive does not make much difference from this perspective.


Patti Lyman July 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

I think the argument to lead with on that is not just that they’ve been waiting a long time, but that the I-730 beneficiaries are in a class by themselves as they are in the social group of someone already found by US govt to be past or likely future victims of persecution. Just as asylees have priority over those going through regular immigration process because of US duty to not repatriate someone to likely persecution, so should their close relatives have the same priority.


Patti Lyman July 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm

RE: I-730’s, I believe this is especially critical, since the lead applicant has already been found, as a matter of law, to be in serious danger on account of a protected ground if returned to the home country. By definition, the spouse and unmarried minor children are not only entitled to refugee status by virtue of their inclusion on the I-589, but they are also, according to the US government, actually IN DANGER while they wait for the I-730 process, since as close family members they are part of a cognizable social group and at undisputed risk every day they are waiting. I’ve not heard this argument being made re: I-730 backlog, but certainly they should be a priority.


Jason Dzubow July 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm

I 100% agree. I have argued here that I-730s for backlogged cases should be given first priority, since those family members have already been waiting such a long time. I am starting to fear that the Asylum Office will never reach the backlogged cases, and so the I-730s would become moot. I’ve actually been thinking about a lobbying trip to Congress on this – I don’t know if it would help, and it won’t be easy to organize due to limited time, but I think Congress (or at least their staff) should hear about these hardships directly from the applicants. If I reach that point, I will certainly solicit others through this blog, CAIR Coalition, and AILA.


zan June 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm

That is great idea. This blog is always good in providing information about the poor and displaced asylum seekers. I really appreciate your effort and push the idea to be implemented. I am sure about 75% of the all affirmative seekers and almost all of those in the backlog will definitely pay the suggested money. It is beyond your imagination that we the backlog victims are suffering, especially those of us with kids of age with amazing change and hunger of their full family care. So please, please, please……push this advocacy. Thanks


Jenber June 28, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I could be really a great help. I am one of the asylum seekers who is suffering a lot by the backlog. I have tried to ask expedite interview appointment a number of times but non of them succeed. I can’t get a word that can express the suffering me and my family back home are in. I open the uscis web page and this blog almost every day to get any positive news about the backlog but non except the one at the beginning of April which is again unclear about how long we wait. The office says we will finish with in 43 days when the office becomes fully staffed but the tricky part is they didn’t explain when they will get fully staffed. I am almost sleepless and fear I may loss my job that I got after almost a year of joblessness that makes me dependent on friends and strangers. So please push such an issue that could solve the problem of many families.


Patti Lyman June 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Jason, this is an outstanding idea. “The poor” are not helped by everyone in the system being equally crippled. I think this would be especially helpful in cases where wife/children are still stuck back in the home country and it is urgent to get the case granted and start the I-730 process. And by the way, how about premium processing fees for I-730’s as well?????


Jason Dzubow July 2, 2014 at 9:50 am

Thank you – Something needs to change, that is for sure. And premium processing for I-730s is an excellent idea.


bill holston June 26, 2014 at 4:44 pm

I can’t agree with you here. It’s a much greater hardship for the poor, especially those who filed affirmatively and are not working, who might wait for many months.


Jason Dzubow June 27, 2014 at 10:31 am

Hmm, I prefer it when you agree with me. Here, though, I think premium processing would infuse money and resources into the system. This would make cases move more quickly for everyone. Though the applicants who could pay the fee would benefit more, cases of poorer applicants would move more quickly than they are moving now. In other words, though the “rich” would benefit more, everyone would benefit to some degree.


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