I had an adjustment of status interview today, that went very well, but took a little bit longer because of USCIS’s new policy on interpreters that went into effect today. Please see below as to who can be and who cannot be an interpreter for USCIS interviews.
Core Qualifications to Serve as an Interpreter
Officers must determine whether a proposed interpreter meets the interpreter qualifications, including whether to grant exceptions for good cause when such are available. An interpreter is “a person who provides an oral translation between speakers who speak different languages.”4 In order to qualify as an interpreter for purposes of an immigration interview conducted in a USCIS domestic field office, an individual must be sufficiently fluent in both English and in the interviewee’s language, able to interpret competently between English and the interviewee’s language, and able to interpret impartially and without bias. If the officer determines either before or during the interview that an individual cannot meet these standards, the officer must disqualify the individual from being an interpreter.5
Additionally, some individuals are restricted from serving as an interpreter. These include minors under age 18, witnesses, and attorneys and representatives for the interviewee. An exception for good cause may be granted if the proposed interpreter is age 14-17. See Section (c), “Exceptions for Good Cause.” A witness in a case also cannot serve as an interpreter unless an exception is made for good cause.6
Individuals under age 14 cannot serve as interpreters. The attorney or accredited representative of the interviewee also cannot serve as an interpreter during the interview. There are no exceptions to these two restrictions.
The interpreter must demonstrate proficiency in both English and in the interviewee’s language to the satisfaction of the officer, meaning that the interpreter is sufficiently fluent in both languages. Fluency is the ability “to speak or write smoothly, easily, or readily without difficulty or great effort.”7 To be proficient, the interviewer must be able to communicate effectively in both languages about the subject areas to be covered in the interview. Please note that while fluency is a component of being a competent interpreter, it does not always guarantee such competence.
The interpreter must communicate information accurately in both English and in the interviewee’s language. The interpreter must give a full and accurate interpretation of the entire interview.
Competency of the interpreter is not always easy to determine. Competency requires more than self-identification as an interpreter in the relevant language. Some individuals may communicate effectively in a different language when communicating information directly in that language (i.e., fluent), but may not be competent to interpret into and out of English. There are a number of signs that indicate that an individual is not competent to interpret.8
With regard to minors, one consideration for determining competency is the interpreter’s age. Minors, generally, are not considered to be capable of fully understanding or weighing the consequences of contracts or oaths, particularly those regarding confidentiality, which may undermine the validity of the Declaration that the interviewee and interpreter must sign before the interview. Moreover, minors may not be capable of handling the sensitive content of some interviews, which may adversely affect the accuracy and reliability of their interpretations during interviews. Given these considerations, minors less than 18 years of age will be restricted from serving as interpreters. Minors who are 14 through 17 years of age are restricted from serving as interpreters unless an exception for good cause has been established.9 Minors less than 14 years of age are not deemed competent to serve as interpreters during interviews and must be disqualified.10 As with any interpreter, a minor who is permitted to serve as an interpreter must demonstrate fluency, competency, and impartiality before and throughout the course of the interview.
Some individual organizations certify interpreters as competent to interpret in a designated language; however, an interpreter may be competent absent such certification, and certification does not always guarantee competency.11 USCIS recognizes that not all interviewees are able to secure the services of a professional interpreter. Regardless of certification, all interpreters must demonstrate to the officer that they can interpret competently.
Impartial and Unbiased Individual
The interpreter must be impartial and able to interpret without bias. An impartial and unbiased individual is one who does not have a predisposition or preconceived opinion about a matter. A predisposition or preconceived opinion may prevent the individual from interpreting information accurately, literally, and fully or making a reliable interpreter declaration.
Officers must consider potential conflicts of interest between an interviewee and his or her proposed interpreter, as well as any other circumstances that might interfere with the interpreter’s ability to provide an accurate, literal, and full interpretation. Interpreters and the interviewees must disclose any relationship, predisposition, or preconceived opinion that could affect the interpreter’s objectivity and consequently his or her ability to provide impartial and objective interpretation during the interview. For example, some friends, family members, or persons with financial connections to the interviewee (e.g. business partners) could have either actual conflicts of interest with the interviewee or have a strong personal interest in the interviewee obtaining the immigration benefit at issue such that the proposed interpreter is not able to provide impartial and unbiased
interpretation services.12 As such, family members will generally be disfavored as interpreters if there is another qualified interpreter available to the customer. Upon disclosure, the officer must use his or her discretion in making a determination as to whether the circumstances will interfere with the interpreter’s ability to interpret objectively and provide an accurate and truthful interpretation of the information conveyed during the interview. If the officer determines that despite the relationships or other circumstances disclosed, the interpreter can still provide competent, impartial and unbiased interpretation, then the interpreter may normally be accepted.13
Where the proposed interpreter is a derivative (e.g., spouse or child) of the interviewee and could obtain an immigration benefit if the interviewee’s application or petition is granted, the officer should be particularly vigilant in making his or her determination as to whether the derivative may, nevertheless, be able to meet the impartiality and
unbiased requirement. The officer should continue such vigilance throughout the interview for any signs that the interpreter is violating the interpreter’s Declaration.14 However, the officer must not predetermine that a derivative beneficiary is disqualified from serving as an interpreter, due to a conflict of interest, solely because he or she is a derivative beneficiary.
Interpreters who are witnesses in the case-at-hand constitute a special subset of individuals who are likely to be inherently partial and biased, and, therefore, may be less likely to be able to provide accurate, literal and full interpretation. For this reason, witnesses are restricted from serving as interpreters. However, exceptions may be made at the discretion of the officer if there is good cause. See section (b), Restricted Individuals, and, Section (c), Exceptions for Good Cause. As with any interpreter, a witness who is permitted to serve as an interpreter must demonstrate fluency, competency, and impartiality before and throughout the course of the interview.
Please note that some family derivatives may be witnesses, but not all derivatives are witnesses. Similarly, witnesses may also be non-derivatives. An exception for good cause is only required if the family derivative is also a witness in the case and the interviewee wishes to have his or her derivative interpret at the interview. However, officers must carefully consider whether the derivative is capable of interpreting impartially and without bias.
Attorneys and representatives who have filed a Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative (“G-28”), to represent the applicant, petitioner or beneficiary in connection with the benefit request are inherently partial and biased toward their client’s interest. As such, conflicts of interest are likely to arise between the attorney’s or representative’s duty to his or her client and his or her ability to serve as an impartial and competent interpreter in accordance with the Declaration. Therefore, such individuals are disqualified from serving as interpreters at the interview. The officer cannot make exceptions for good cause.