Preparing for a video-call asylum substantive interview

Legal Updates

The Home Office is conducting many substantive (big) asylum interviews via video call instead of in-person.

The asylum substantive interview is the big interview in the asylum process when the Home Office interviewer will ask you in detail about your reasons for claiming asylum.

The big interview could be the most important part of your asylum application. The interview may last several hours and you will be asked lots of questions. It can be a very long and difficult experience.

To learn more about having your interview by video call, keep reading.

For more information about the substantive (big) interview generally, have a look at our Toolkit.

What is a video call interview?

If you are invited to have your interview by video call, is likely that you will still have to attend a Home Office building on the day. The difference is that you will sit in a room in one location, and the Home Office interviewer (and the interpreter if you require one) will sit in another. Sometimes they will be sitting in a different room in the same building as you, or they could be in a different part of the country.

The interview will take place over video link and the audio will automatically be recorded. It is your right to receive a copy of the written transcript and audio recording after your interview, though you (or your lawyer if you have one) may have to request this.

Video calls are possible for people who live close enough to facilities that have this option. If you live too far away, call the Home Office to let them know using the number provided at the top of your invitation letter.

If a video call interview would make you feel unsafe for reasons relating to your claim, notify the Home Office as soon as possible after receiving your invitation. You can read more about this in the Home Office guidance document, see page 14.

During the interview, you will be asked many questions – or the same question in different ways – about why you cannot go back to your country and need to stay in the UK. This can take a long time. Be prepared not to be believed: the interviewer is not your friend, even if they are not hostile towards you.

Answer questions clearly, and try to include all the details about your reasons for claiming asylum. Take your time, even if you feel pressured. If you don’t remember something or know the answer, tell the interviewer, especially if this is due to a traumatic memory. If you remember afterwards, you (or your lawyer if you have one) can send it to the Home Office in writing.

How to prepare for a video interview

Your big interview may be the main evidence you provide to the Home Office in support of your claim, so it is important to prepare.

Do not assume that the interviewer will understand the situation in your country, or that they will tell you if not. If you can, practice explaining the situation to someone who is not from your country to see whether it makes sense to them.

One way to do this could be by doing a ‘practice’ (pretend) interview with people you trust. Perhaps one friend could act as the Home Office interviewer, and another who speaks your language and English could act as the interpreter. To mimic having the real interview on a video link, you could plan to hold the practice interview via Zoom, Skype, or any other video call application you have access to. You could also do the practice interview in person.

You can try and stay in ‘character’ for this interview, but remember that you can take breaks or stop at any time if it becomes too difficult. The person pretending to be the Home Office interviewer will ask you lots of questions, and you try and answer them. The ‘interviewer’ may cut you off mid-sentence, hurry you along, not show any emotion etc.

To learn more about what the interview is like and the types of questions you may be asked, have a look at our page on the Asylum Substantive (Big) Interview.

Even if you do not practice doing an interview, it is still useful to work through your story with a friend, supporter, or someone you trust to figure out what information is most important. Make sure you only practise with people you trust, and make an agreement that nothing will be passed on further. You can also be very clear about what parts of your story you don’t want to talk about when practising

Going through your story or practising your interview with a friend is not the same as being told what to say. You do not want to sound too ‘polished’ in front of the Home Office interviewer in real life. Remember to be honest, and not to make up answers. Be careful not to rehearse your story like a speech, or it might sound to the interviewer like you’re not being truthful.

If you have difficulty remembering things clearly, you can write a chronological (in order of how it happened) timeline to help you remember your story. If you prefer drawing, perhaps you could draw pictures or maps as tools to remember important events, dates, or places. Even though you cannot bring these things will you on the day of the interview, they can still be used to help you prepare.

Many interviews have been significantly delayed. This is very frustrating, but you can use this time to prepare! If the delay severely impacts you, it can be chased or challenged but it is best to consult a lawyer before doing this.

To learn more, watch our delays video.

Plan for the day

It is useful to plan your journey to the Home Office location. Perhaps visit beforehand with a supporter to help reduce any anxious feelings you may have. Some organisations provide travel fares, and if you are on asylum support you should be able to get your ticket(s) paid for.

If you have a lawyer, they should call the Home Office in advance to request an interpreter for your preferred language, dialect, and gender.

If you are a single parent of a child under the age of five, you can request childcare from the Home Office so that you do not bring them into the interview with you.

Preparing and going through the asylum substantive (big) interview can be a very difficult experience. If you can, try to build a community to provide you with support. Be prepared for a refusal or delay in receiving a decision, but know that this is not the end: most people are initially refused and go on to appeal. Over half of first-time appeals are successful. Don’t give up!

For more tips on how to prepare for your big interview, you can read about other people’s experiences.



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