The Role and Use of Interpreters in Domestic Field Office Interviews
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has published a policy memorandum intended to help ensure that customers who bring interpreters to certain interviews have competent language assistance. This guidance, to be implemented May 1, 2017, applies to interviews conducted at domestic field offices except in cases where USCIS provides interpreters or has other policies, such as:
- Asylum and refugee interviews.
- Credible fear and reasonable fear screening interviews.
- Interviews to determine eligibility for relief under provisions of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA).
- Naturalization interviews, unless the interviewee qualifies for an exception to demonstrating adequate proficiency in reading, writing and speaking English.
USCIS will introduce Form G-1256, Declaration for Interpreted USCIS Interview. Both the interviewee and the interpreter will have to sign this new form at the beginning of the interview in the presence of the USCIS officer.
The declaration states that the interpreter must accurately, literally and fully interpret for both the interviewee and the interviewing officer. It also reminds the interviewee that an interpreter may hear personal information, and requires the interpreter to agree not to disclose any such information learned in the interview.
The new policy seeks to promote consistency in interpreted interviews by establishing standards for interpreters provided by USCIS customers. These standards do not apply to document translations or to interviews conducted at international field offices.
What are the standards? Interpreters must be:
- Sufficiently fluent in both English and the interviewee’s language.
- Able to interpret competently between English and the interviewee’s language.
- Able to interpret impartially and without bias.
Officers will receive training to implement the new policy. An officer may allow an individual to act as an interpreter only if the person meets all three standards and is not restricted from serving as an interpreter.
People who are restricted from serving as interpreters include:
- Minors under age 18 (an exception for good cause may be granted for those age 14-17).
- Witnesses (unless an exception for good cause is granted). A witness is anyone who gives a personal account – orally or in writing – of something seen, heard, or experienced.
- Attorneys and accredited representatives of the interviewee.
The interviewee or representative may request an exception for good cause to allow some restricted individuals, such as a person age 14 to 17 or a witness, to serve as an interpreter. The officer will consider the request based on the totality of the circumstances and at the officer’s discretion, subject to approval by a supervisor. The officer may also find there is good cause without a specific request.
There are no exceptions to the restrictions against individuals under age 14 and attorneys or accredited representatives of the interviewee serving as interpreters. If the attorney or representative wishes to serve as an interpreter, he or she must withdraw Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative, and may not serve as the attorney or representative during the interview.
If the officer determines that an interpreter does not meet the required standards or is restricted from serving as an interpreter, the interpreter will be disqualified. The applicant may choose to 1) continue the interview using a qualified interpreter; 2) reschedule the interview per local procedures so that the applicant may bring a qualified interpreter; or 3) continue the interview without an interpreter, if the applicant and officer can communicate effectively in English.