Asylum Case Delayed Forever? Here Are Some Possible Reasons

by Jason Dzubow on October 20, 2015

These days, all asylum applicants face long waits prior to their interviews. After the interview, some applicants receive a decision in two weeks; others wait months; still others—thankfully, a minority—wait for years without a decision.

A helpful diagram of the U.S. asylum system.

A helpful diagram of the U.S. asylum system.

Why does it sometimes take so long to get a decision? Our dogged reporters at the Asylumist have come into possession of an internal Asylum Office document that sheds light on this question (ok, in truth, the document is publicly available, but it’s not so easy to find). The document is the Quality Assurance Referral Sheet, which lists the categories of cases that must be submitted to headquarters (“HQ”) for further review.

Cases submitted to HQ often face substantial delays. So if your case falls into one of the below categories, you can expect a longer wait for your decision. How long? I have no idea. Some of our cases that go to HQ receive decisions relatively quickly. Others languish for months; sometimes years. There seems to be no way to predict how long such cases might take.

Without further ado, here are the asylum-seeker categories that hopefully you don’t fall into:

Diplomats and Other High Level Officials: Any decision—grant, referral to court or a notice of intent to deny—in the case of a sitting diplomat to the U.S. or United Nations, other high-level government or military officials, high ranking diplomats to other countries, and family members of such people must have their cases reviewed by headquarters. The same is true for any asylum applicant who fraudulently obtained a diplomatic visa.

National Security/Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds (“TRIG”): Any decision in a case that would be granted but for a TRIG bar, regardless of whether an exemption to the bar is available, must go to HQ. The TRIG bar is quite broad and many people are potentially affected. This includes people who worked for or supported terrorist organizations (or more accurately, organizations that the U.S. government views as terrorists), and even includes people who “supported” terrorists under duress. An example might be someone who paid money as ransom or who was forced on pain of death to provide services to terrorists. TRIG is particularly tricky because some cases (recent numbers are not available, but last year’s numbers are here) are placed on indefinite hold, meaning the applicant will never receive a decision, at least not until the government gets around to enacting new regulations on the subject. If you think your case might be subject to a TRIG hold, you can email USCIS (the email address is here, at the bottom of the page). In my limited experience (two cases), USCIS has been responsive and has informed me whether my cases were being held due to terrorism-related grounds (they were not).

Other National Security: In order to grant a case involving national security concerns, where the concern was not resolved through vetting, the case must go to HQ. Aside from terrorism, national security concerns can include a wide range of activities, including suspected gang membership or involvement in other criminal activities.

Persecutor-related issues: Asylum grants are referred to HQ where the evidence indicates that the applicant may have ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in acts of persecution or human rights violations, and the individual has demonstrated that he should not be barred as a persecutor. Also, before a credible applicant is referred to Immigration Court or issued a Notice of Intent to Deny letter based on the persecutor bar, the case must be reviewed by HQ. You might fall into this category if you served in the police or military of your country, if you were a prison guard or you interrogated prisoners, and if your government has a record of abusing human rights.

Publicized or Likely to be Publicized: High-profile cases that have had or are likely to have national exposure, not just local interest, are subject to HQ review. If your case is getting media attention, or if it could affect relations with your home country, the case will likely be sent to HQ before any decision (good or bad) is issued.

Firm Resettlement: If a person is “firmly resettled” in a third country—meaning, she has the ability to live permanent in a country that is not the U.S. and is not her home country—she is ineligible for asylum. Where the asylum office would have granted the case but for firm resettlement, the case is sent to HQ for review.

Juvenile: Where the asylum applicant is less than 18 years old at the time of filing, the case will be referred to headquarter if the Asylum Office intends to deny.

EOIR- Prior Denials: Where an applicant was previously denied asylum by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the Immigration Judge and/or the Board of Immigration Appeals), the case must be reviewed by HQ before it can be granted.

Discretionary Denials/Referrals: If the Asylum Office intends to deny a case or refer it to the Immigration Court based solely on “discretion,” the case must be reviewed by HQ. This means that the asylum applicant met the definition of a refugee and is otherwise eligible for asylum, but is being denied or referred due to reasons that are not legal bars to asylum. A discretionary denial might be for a crime that does not bar asylum, like DUI or failure to pay child support, or for some other lack of good moral character.

National of Contiguous Territory/Visa Waiver Country/Safe Third Country: Where the Asylum Office intends to grant the case of an applicant from a contiguous territory (Canada or Mexico) and the case involves a novel legal issues or criminal activity by the applicant in the U.S. or abroad, the case must be referred to HQ. Also, cases of applicants from countries in the Visa Waiver Program must be referred to HQ before they are granted. In addition, grants of applicants who are nationals of countries with which the U.S. has a Safe Third Country agreement must be referred to HQ (the only country with which we currently have such an agreement is Canada).

Safe-Third Country Agreement: All cases in which evidence indicates the STC agreement may apply, irrespective of whether the applicant is eligible for an exception, must be referred to HQ. This means that anyone (regardless of country of origin) who was first in Canada (the only country with which we have a STC agreement) and then came to the United States for asylum, must have her case reviewed by HQ.

Asylum Office Request for HQ Quality Assurance Review: Any case for which the Asylum Office Director requests review from headquarters will be reviewed.

As you can see, there are many reasons why a person’s case might be referred to headquarters for more review (and more delay). It would be helpful if the Asylum Office could publish some data about HQ review—perhaps how long each category of review takes and how many cases are currently under review. I understand why HQ cannot easily predict how long the review will take for an individual case, but if more information were made public, it would help ease the wait for asylum applicants.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

amy January 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm

i have an EAD I applied as an asylum sept 2015 but I’m yet to get interview date. I intend to travel to marry my sweetheart soon outside the country . do you think its adviceable and how long do you think this will take

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African nation December 16, 2016 at 11:59 pm

I went individual hearing in January 2016, ij told me that ( I leave your case an open record within 30 days) and he’ll mail it to me the decision but I didn’t hear them until now.
I call immigration court number and it’s saying my case still pending (oh god)
can you tell please why they don’t make decision it’s almost a year since I was final hearing

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Jason Dzubow December 19, 2016 at 7:22 am

You need to contact the court directly – not the 1-800-898-7180 number – and talk to the IJ’s clerk. You can find the court’s phone number if you follow the link at right called Immigration Court. Take care, Jason

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African nation December 20, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Well they said that ( we have a lot of cases and we can’t do fast

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African nation December 20, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Do you think there is a delay and there is nothing wrong on my case, he told me everything is possible

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Jason Dzubow December 21, 2016 at 7:30 am

It is very difficult to know why a particular case is delayed, and many cases are delayed, so it does not necessarily mean that something is wrong with the case. Take care, Jason

javier November 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Hello i filed my asylum on September 2013 in miami office, i moved to texas on aug 2016 , after 3 years and 2 months exactly i was called for the interview, the interview was well, the officer was so nice and polite, i just answered about 2 question badly, but the interview was only 2 hours, she made me feel confortable all the time, she told me to pick up my decision 14 days later in person, 7 days after the interview i got called by uscis and they said they will mail the decision and i was going to receive it in 2 weeks after the call, its been a month already, and i havent recieved anything, i waited 3 years and 2 months for the interview, do i have to wait more time? i am tired of waiting.

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Jason Dzubow November 28, 2016 at 7:28 am

I do not blame you for being tired of waiting. Unfortunately, the situation you describe is very common. I wish the officers would tell people that decision are not often ready in 2 weeks, but usually they do not do this. I do not think they realize how harmful it is (I wrote a post about thus called “Some Unsolicited Advice for Asylum Officers,” I think). You may get the decision today or it may take many months. Unfortunately, there is no way to know, and you have to continue to be patient. Take care, Jason

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javier November 28, 2016 at 9:29 pm

what i dont understand is why they told me to. pick it up and then the mext week they said dont come we will mail to you, why that change of mind, waiting so long means a bad decision or something? i am really worried. i am from venezuela.

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Jason Dzubow November 28, 2016 at 11:32 pm

Usually, this happens because the security background check is not complete. It is common, and it really has nothing to do with your case or the outcome of the case. It is very unfortunate that the officers tell you to expect a decision in two weeks, and then you do not get it. It would be better if they gave you the full story, so at least your hopes were not built up and then dashed. But in short, it is common and is no cause for concern. But it could take some time before the decision comes, and you need to be patient. Take care, Jason

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Ali November 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Hi Jason,
I was interviewed at the Arlington Asylum office in May, 2014. No issues were raised during interview. I was told the decision will be mailed to me. It has been more than 2 and a half years and I haven’t received any decision. Today, when I went to the office in person, they told me that it is under quality assurance review. What does it mean and what should be my next move in order to expedite this whole process and get a decision. Please don’t say that sue the government as I have talked to my lawyer and that’s a very expensive thing which I can’t afford.
Thanks.

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Jason Dzubow November 16, 2016 at 5:50 pm

You can check with the USCIS Ombudsman – a link is at right. Maybe they can help. There are many people (including many of my clients) who have been waiting as long as you, and it is basically not possible to expedite the post-interview process. Maybe if you have a health or family emergency, you can present evidence of that to the Asylum Office and that will help. We have tried many things for our clients, with very little effect. Good luck, Jason

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leader November 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm

HI Jason,
I got Recommended approval in July 2016, I applied with my wife and 4 children out of which two are above 14 years of age, today its been 102 days and we are still waiting for final approval. In present scenario, do you have any idea as to how many more days for it, just a guess?
I was living in LA and was interviewed there and got my recommended approval there and in September i moved to Houston, do you think that can be the reason of delay? My lawyer did file change of address in Oct but have not received any receipt etc so far.
Thanking you in anticipation
regards

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Jason Dzubow November 3, 2016 at 6:13 am

I do not think the move would have any effect on your case. The average wait time from recommended approval to final approval is 105 days. However, we have seen people get the decision in 2 weeks (just recently) and we have other people who waited years with no decision. In other words, I think there is no way to know. You can inquire with the Los Angeles Asylum Office (their contact info can be found if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator) and also with the USCIS Ombudsman (a link is at right) and maybe this will get you some more info. Take care, Jason

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Leader November 13, 2016 at 9:22 pm

Thank you very much Jason, i appreciate your efforts to keep people enlightened with your knowledge, whenever there is time to apply for green card, for sure you will be my lawyer, thanks again and
Regards

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leader November 13, 2016 at 11:25 pm

Do you think its a good idea to email my IO, since i have his uscis email address but my lawyer thinks its not a good idea? And my interview was in Louisiana so i dont think it will help me to call Los Angeles office, probably you thought its that La,
thanks and regards

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Jason Dzubow November 14, 2016 at 7:14 am

I generally discourage my clients from emailing the Asylum Officers directly. However, if you send a short, respectful email, including your alien number and the date of the interview, it is unlikely to do any harm. The problem comes when applicants and attorneys are not in agreement on strategy and do not know what the other is doing. In the end, it is your case and your decision, but I highly recommend you coordinate with your lawyer and at least tell the lawyer what you are doing (and cc the lawyer on the email). Take Care, Jason

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leader November 15, 2016 at 3:04 pm

so its better not to bring my bottoms in front of a flying arrow and wait for a week more at least ,

Thanks a lot Jason you are doing a true good job.

J.D. October 31, 2016 at 7:05 am

“EOIR- Prior Denials: Where an applicant was previously denied asylum by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the Immigration Judge and/or the Board of Immigration Appeals), the case must be reviewed by HQ before it can be granted.”

I thought that if your asylum application is denied, you are banned from requesting asylum again, and can only receive protection under the Geneva Torture Convention?

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Jason Dzubow October 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm

You can re-apply for asylum, though the procedure is different than for an initial application. If you are in this situation, you should talk to a lawyer to make sure you can re-apply. Take care, Jason

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Shaiza October 14, 2016 at 5:26 am

Hey jason can u help me out with this issue! My mother has applied asylum in june 2013 and then she got no response related to interview call … She waited for a long time nd then in september 2016 she recieved her interview call and she gave it on 14th september 2016.. Asylum officer told her that she will recieve her decision via mail within two weeks after interview but it’s been a month and she has not recieved anything. How long will this process take? My mother has already waited alot.

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Jason Dzubow October 14, 2016 at 6:30 am

Unfortunately, the asylum offices often tell you this, and it often turns out to be false. It would be better if they did not make promises that they cannot keep. Anyway, it could come tomorrow, or it might take many months. There is no way to predict. She has to remain calm and patient and hopefully it will come soon. Given that you were told 2 weeks, you may want to contact the Asylum Office and ask them about the status – You can find their contact info if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator. However, your mother’s situation is very common, and so I doubt they will tell you anything useful, but I suppose there is no harm in asking. Take care, Jason

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Rs October 13, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Hi,
I filed for asylum on sep 2014. I’m from Nepal, and last year i also filed for TPS as i was qualified for it as well. But till the date i haven’t received an interview date, neither have i received response other than biometrics scan twice, once for asylum and another for TPS. I don’t know why it is taking so long. I’m worried if my TPS applicaion have affected my asylum case in any way. I went to the office twice within two yrs , each time they estimate i might be receiving date within 6 mths. Any suggestions plz?

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Jason Dzubow October 14, 2016 at 6:23 am

Asylum cases are very slow – you can check the Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin about that (a link is at the right). As for TPS, you might try contacting the USCIS Ombudsman – there is a link at right for that too. They can assist with delayed cases, and it seems like your TPS case is very delayed. Whether this is related to your asylum case, I do not know, but I doubt it. Take care, Jason

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Shera October 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

Hi Jason.

I would like to Send a email to USCIS to ask the reason why my case pending in HQ and to check TRIG inadmissibility with them. Can you briefly write their email in comment because I could not find it in link which you refer it.

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Jason Dzubow October 14, 2016 at 6:21 am

I do not have an email address for HQ, and I think there is no general email address there. There is a link at right called TRIG inadmissibility, and I think they post their email address at the bottom. I am not sure if they removed it, or if it still works, but maybe try that and see what happens. Also, you can contact the USCIS Ombudsman – a link is at right. Take care, Jason

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AAA September 27, 2016 at 2:38 pm

Hi Jason,
My asylum application is referred to the immigration court in Newark NJ and my master hearing is on March, 2018, Is there any way I can advance my hearing date? I know I have to file a motion to advance but I m afraid if the motion is get denied and harm my case.

I came to the US in Sep 2012 ans since then my case is pending between USCIS and Immigration court.

AAA

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Jason Dzubow September 28, 2016 at 6:02 am

A motion to advance may not work, but I do not see how it can harm your case. You could also try to enter pleadings in writing (in other words, instead of waiting until 2018 to tell the Judge how the case will proceed, you write it down and send it to him now). This might also get you a sooner court date. For people in court, it is very helpful to have a lawyer. I suggest you find a lawyer and ask whether the lawyer can do something to make the case faster. Take care, Jason

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susan September 25, 2016 at 7:43 pm

Hello Jason
I had given my asylum Interview on May 1 2013. Interview went well and the interviewer told me that i will get the result in mail and after that i haven’t got any mail from them. I am so frustrated, wating fro my decision. I had given my interview in Nebraska office but the interviewer came from Chicago asylum office.

Please help me on this. how can i get the information about whats going on with my case? and where do i have to contact.

Thanks
Susan

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Jason Dzubow September 26, 2016 at 6:33 am

Unfortunately, this is a common problem. You can contact the Asylum Office itself or go there in person (you can find contact info if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator). Also, you can try the USCIS Ombudsman, a link is also at right. These are the best ways to get started. You can also ask your congressperson for help (usually a waste of time) or file a mandamus lawsuit (possible expensive and usually a path people do not want to go down). Good luck, Jason

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Ahmed August 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

Hi Jason
In this article you did not talk about the suggested solution, so is submitting FOIA request give you a solution for your pending case?

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Jason Dzubow August 18, 2016 at 5:33 pm

I doubt a FOIA would help here. I suggest contacting the asylum office, maybe through a liaison, like AILA, or contacting the USCIS Ombudsman – a link is at right. Also, if all else fails, you can try a mandamus lawsuit. Take care, Jason

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Talal August 11, 2016 at 12:10 am

I was interviewed April 2014 and was advised to come pick my decision in two week . kept going back and forth following up on my case and was told six month later that the officer working on my case no longer works there and it has been handed over to the SV . then April 2015 I was invited to do a second interview with a different officer and same thing happened less that a month later went to pick up my decision and I was told that she has been transferred and no longer work there . then once I got response that case holding background check then I got that its under review with asylum officer again and the last time I went it was under review with HQ . Now I am totally confused and disappointed . It just feels sad after all what we have already been through . any advice other than keep waiting for a response ????? Thank you in advance . best wishes to everyone

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Jason Dzubow August 14, 2016 at 8:38 am

I have seen this before; it is really awful. I think they do not fully realize how harmful this is for people in your situation. One idea is to contact the USCIS Ombudsman – a link is at right. Give that a try. After that, you can sue them (mandamus lawsuit), but start with the Ombudsman. Good luck, Jason

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Ahmed August 9, 2016 at 7:45 am

Hi Jason
I receive this letter from asylum office, is that mean they send it to HQ for review or what that mean?

“we are waiting the results of mandatory, confidential investigation of your identity and background. There is no need to contact our office. You will be notified as soon as this investigation is complete. You may be contacted to submit another set of fingerprints for this investigation”

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Jason Dzubow August 10, 2016 at 6:21 am

I do not think it means that. It sounds like they are doing the background checks, which may be quick, but sometimes (unfortunately) takes many months. Take care, Jason

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Shezal August 6, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Hello Jason,

My interview was in April 2016 I have contacted USCIS office they said it is under extended quality review in HQ office . What dose it mean and how long it will take? How to expedite the process?

Waiting for your response
Thanks

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Jason Dzubow August 7, 2016 at 9:06 am

The average wait time for HQ review in 2016 was 239 days (see page 16 or https://www.dhs.gov/annual-report-congress). Many of our cases at HQ seem to take much longer than that, so I am not sure how accurate it is (though I suppose it is the “average;” it does not discuss how much variation there is). I know of no way to expedite the HQ process. Maybe you could sue USCIS (a mandamus lawsuit), but you should talk to a lawyer before you try that. Good luck, Jason

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Rad M April 10, 2016 at 11:32 pm

Hello,
I am from Syria. It has been over 3 years now since i did my interview in Chicago office. Every time we follow up they say they are waiting for security check. I heard that already 2 years ago. What security check takes over 3 years? My lawyer did mention that since i been in the U.S since 2000 they might wonder why i filed now 12 years later. The answer is the situation got worse all my family members fled fearing persecution as i was imprisoned before and recently about 3 years ago my brother escaped miraculously.
I made a recent inquiry early this year and they said still pending.
I feel trapped. what can i do? And what takes so long to make a decision like that? I have 2 kids born here in the U.S., i never did anything wrong to jeopardize my status in the U.S. i just don’t get it.
Any suggestions?

Thank you for you help in advance.

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Jason Dzubow April 11, 2016 at 6:26 am

The security background check is mysterious (it is also ridiculous – of someone is a danger to the country, why would we allow him to wait around for 3 years for a background check). You can contact the Ombudsman’s office to inquire – a link is provided at right. It’s free, so it’s worth a try. If that does not help, you can sue the government (called a mandamus lawsuit) to force them to issue a decision. You might also check out this report: https://www.aclusocal.org/CARRP/. (and maybe you can even contact the ACLU to see whether they have any ideas). One of these days, I plan to do a posting about it, but it is depressing reading. Take care, Jason

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Eddie March 16, 2016 at 6:55 pm

It’s almost a year since I made an interview. I asked the AO at least twice. They said its pending here at asylum officers’….what does it imply such kind of thing? They snub to take a look at it? Thanks

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Jason Dzubow March 16, 2016 at 9:40 pm

It just means there is no answer. I would not take it as a snub – thousands of cases are pending and they simply to do not have the ability to give substantive responses to inquiries. It may also be waiting for a security background check, which is not within the control of the asylum office. Hopefully you will get some good news soon. Take care, Jason

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Der February 25, 2016 at 9:38 am

HI Jason,

Two years passed since I was interviewed.No decision yet received.The interview was good and the AO initially told me to pick up the decision in two weeks time but later she called and told me to wait the decision by mail.
Recently I requested the arlington office in person, and they replied that my case is under revierw by Quality Assurance departement and they can’t do any thing unless it is release from the QA department.
Why my case transfered to QA department ? is there a back log at QA? What should I do inorder to expediate the decision?

Thanks in advance for your advice.

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Jason Dzubow February 25, 2016 at 6:07 pm

I list the main reasons this would happen above. You might also send an email to see if there is a terrorism-related issue. The link at right called TRIG Inadmissibility has the email for that. Good luck, Jason

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Andy January 14, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Hi Jason my wife’s case was at 9th circuit for a brief in Nov 2015 now she got news that her case will be returned to BIA because they made a mistake she filled for asylum before the one year deadline when you enter US which she did file one year before she entered US what should we do, she has the option of closing her case put it on hold or have BIA make a decision since they didnt make a decision prior because they said that she didnt file prior to one year dealine any suggestions

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Jason Dzubow January 15, 2016 at 6:45 am

If you are talking about closing the case based on PD (prosecutorial discretion), and you have that option, you should talk to a lawyer about the specifics of your case. PD is not great, but it is better than nothing. It is similar to Withholding of Removal – I wrote a post a few weeks ago about why I do not like Withholding, and the same logic applies to PD. If you have a strong asylum case, maybe you want to try to win, but if the case is weak, maybe PD is better. You need to talk to a lawyer about the specifics of your case. Good luck, Jason

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Jason Dzubow November 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Well said.

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