Volunteer Advocate (VA) FAQ


  • How does the application process work?

Please send your application materials to Nivetha Krishnan at apply@asylumaccess.org. If you are interested in applying to more than one office, you need only send one application, and you may explain your preferences and interests in your cover letter.

  • Application Materials (required):
  1. cover letter (including the date you expect to be available, all languages you speak, any other skills you possess that would be helpful to Asylum Access, and your reasons for wanting to volunteer with us)
  2. 1­-2 page resume
  3. writing sample (ideally an analytical, legal writing, or editorial piece)

  • When should I apply? Do VA programs begin on specific dates?

Typically, a new group of VAs are accepted every 3 to 6 months. Therefore, we accept applications and offer acceptances on a rolling basis.

  • How many hours per week is a volunteer expected to work?

VAs are full­-time volunteers. We expect that you will work approximately 40 hours per week. If you work more than 40 hours in a week, the local leadership staff may, at their discretion, allow you to take compensatory time off at a mutually ­convenient later date, up to an amount equal to the excess time you worked.

  • How is the volunteer advocate program different than the former volunteer legal advocate program?

Asylum Access’s older Volunteer Legal Advocate program has been rebranded as the Volunteer Advocate program in order to better describe and contain the diversity of volunteer positions that we host in each of our offices. While legal volunteers are just as vital as they have been in the past, other positions—such as Community Empowerment, Coordination, or Administrative Volunteers—have fewer legal responsibilities. As we hold all our positions to the same level of importance, the name has been broadened to be more inclusive.

  • Am I entitled to leave or time off during my volunteer experience?

Volunteer personnel are entitled to one week of “Rest & Relaxation” per three months of work at an Asylum Access office. This R & R must be coordinated with and approved by the volunteer’s immediate supervisor at least two weeks prior to the desired dates. Approval of specific dates for R & R is at the discretion of the volunteer’s immediate supervisor and may need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the local office and/or the realities of transportation out of the Asylum Access office.

  • Can I speak with a former volunteer?

Asylum Access VAs are always happy to be in touch with future VAs. However, due the the high number of inquiries we cannot put candidates in contact with a VA until he or she is pre­selected for an interview. In the meantime, please refer to Asylum Access’s “A Day in the Life” series on our website, which profiles previous volunteers. If you have pressing questions that you would like answered prior to applying, please direct inquiries to Nivetha Krishnan at apply@asylumaccess.org.

  • What type of a visa will I need? Can Asylum Access help me to get my visa?

Asylum Access will make every effort to provide VAs with accurate and timely information regarding visa requirements for foreigners travelling to office countries. VAs, however, must take primary responsibility for ensuring that they meet all visa requirements. Asylum Access is not responsible for any additional costs incurred by a VA in connection with compliance with visa requirements.

  • Am I required to have health and travel insurance?

All VAs are required to carry valid and current medical and travel/evacuation insurance, copies of which must be filed with Asylum Access prior to the beginning of the volunteer program. You must sign and submit a Proof of Insurance Form to Asylum Access in order to participate in the Volunteer Advocate program and/or to engage in any volunteer work with an Asylum Access office outside the U.S. Medical and travel/evacuation insurance policies must be adequate to cover injuries or illnesses that you may sustain while working in an Asylum Access office and must provide for evacuation in an emergency situation. All VAs assume sole responsibility for payment in full of all costs of medical care they may receive overseas and evacuation expenses.

  • What is my financial responsibility as a volunteer?

VAs are responsible for arranging and paying for all travel to and from their volunteer destination. The VA is also responsible for pre­travel medical expenses (i.e. vaccinations) and health insurance as well as room and board while volunteering abroad. Asylum Access is unable to provide any direct financial assistance to VAs.

  • Can Asylum Access help me with fundraising for my trip?

Below is a list of potential funding opportunities for VAs. Generally, it is the VA’s responsibility to apply and secure funding, however, Asylum Access will gladly write letters of recommendation, provide examples of successful fundraising appeals, and provide information regarding the program if requested.

Occasionally, law schools set up post graduate fellowships for top-­performing recent graduates to work with Asylum Access. To get more information on this or to enquire about setting up a fellowship with your law school, please contact Nivetha Krishnan (apply@asylumaccess.org).

Other resources for funding are:


  • Can I get university or college credit for my work as a VA?

Asylum Access is happy to support a VA’s request for credit for a volunteer position by providing a letter of support or other reasonable requirements. Negotiating credit with your university is the primary responsibility of the volunteer.

  • Can I maintain my CLE requirement while I am abroad?

In most cases VAs should be able to maintain their CLE requirements via online or distance learning. Different state bar associations have different CLE requirements. VAs should consult with their individual bar associations to ensure they stay current with the requirements of their state.

  • What makes a successful volunteer?

Successful volunteers are cooperative, extremely flexible and very patient. They have strong work ethics and are able to adapt to multicultural environments. VAs work with staff and volunteers from around the world. They are respectful of their host country and its culture, and have positive attitudes.

Office Specific Questions:

  • What is the average day like for a Volunteer Advocate? What kind of work will I be doing?

The average day for a volunteer depends on what role they fill within the Asylum Access office where they are located. Non-legal positions tend to be more role-specific and less general—if you wish to enquire about the everyday expectations for a certain non-legal role, email Nivetha Krishnan with questions at apply@asylumaccess.org.

As the duties of legal VAs are more consistent across the board, each individual office has prepared a blurb about the day-to-day expectations of a legal VA:

AAMX: Legal VAs spend most of their time interviewing refugees and providing legal assistance to them. They also accompany them to public institutions so they can process their visas or do paperwork in general.

AATZ: The average day of a legal VA usually involves one or two intake interviews, maybe a secondary interview, writing documents or doing research on behalf of clients, and working on some larger policy advocacy project. Legal VAs will also be involved in community legal education and meeting with outside organizations, but that is not a daily activity.

AAT: Legal VAs spend most of their time meeting with clients and trying to help them articulate what has happened to them in a way that will convince UNHCR that they meet the definition of a refugee. Legal VAs spend about 40% of their time meeting clients, 40% of their time researching and writing testimonies and legal briefs and 20% conducting community education sessions, interpreter training, drafting country condition briefs, and other miscellaneous tasks related to refugee legal assistance.

AAE: The primary responsibility of a legal VA is assisting clients in our legal clinic. This involves interviewing a client to understand what needs he or she may have and taking appropriate action, including writing appeals for clients who have been denied refugee status. At times legal VAs accompany clients to help them obtain governmental services, such as reporting crimes or getting access to banks or schools. They may also be involved in mediation disputes with employers.

  • What is the time commitment for VAs? Why so long?

The minimum time commitment is six months at each office. A significant amount of time is required to train new VAs, get accustomed to the work environment and develop relationships with clients. Therefore, Asylum Access encourages volunteers to stay up to 12 months to ensure a beneficial experience for all involved.

  • What are the language requirements for Volunteer Advocates?

AAE: Spanish is required, English and French are preferred.

AAT: English is required, Thai is preferred. Tamil, Urdu, French, and Mandarin would be helpful. AATZ: English is required, French and Swahili are preferred.

AAM: English is required, Burmese, Arabic, Tamil, Urdu, Somali, or Farsi would be very helpful.

AAMX: Spanish is required, English is preferred.

  • How many years of experience would you like the VA to have? Is a law degree required?

Asylum Access takes in volunteers from all walks of life. While experience in the human rights or community organizing fields is of course preferred, there isn’t a baseline number of years we require. If applying for a legal VA position, a law degree would be a benefit, but not a necessity—past VAs have included qualified law students yet to pass the bar, as well as people who became well-versed in law through non-conventional channels.

  • Where do most volunteers live while they are working for AA? Are you able to help volunteers find housing?

AAE: Volunteers typically live in single or shared apartments in Quito. The AAE office is in the Mariscal neighborhood, so volunteers tend to live as far south as the Centro Historico and as far north as the Parque Carolina neighborhood. Different neighborhoods have different qualities (security, price, luxury, etc.). Apartments are listed every Sunday in the local paper, but we can help you email the community of ex­patriots working in various NGOs around town. Often there are people looking for roommates.

AAT: Most volunteers live in studio apartments located near the office. AAT works with a real estate agency that assists volunteers in finding affordable and convenient housing. Many VAs live near the office: in the Suttisan, Ari and Saphan Qwai areas of Bangkok.

AATZ: Volunteers live in a variety of different places­, often subletting rooms with family or friends. We can provide some general information, and we are developing our knowledge of housing in the city, but we cannot secure housing for you before you reach Dar. We can find a place for you to stay temporarily.

AAMX: Most of them live close to our offices. We make suggestions on where they can find housing but don’t actually find housing for them. In many cases, volunteers live in a temporary apartment and then move to another one once they’re more acquainted with the city.

  • Is it safe for foreigners to live and work abroad? Is security a big concern?

AAE: One must take extra precautions to ensure personal safety in Ecuador. Part of VA training includes some pointers on how to avoid high-­risk situations. But with some simple precautions, you should be able to live without undue concern of your safety. Ecuador is and has been a relatively stable country. As for as being a foreigner goes, Quito in particular is quite cosmopolitan and has a large tourist population, so it is not unusual to see foreigners on the street.

AAT: Bangkok is a relatively safe city. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) says: “Bangkok enjoys a relatively low overall crime rate when compared to its urban counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. Generally, it is a safe place for those wishing to conduct business as well as those taking part in the myriad of tourist activities. Most criminal activity is limited to “non­-confrontational” street crimes such as pocket picking, purse snatching and credit card theft. The local police are effective in assisting with minor crimes, but are continually hampered by a lack of funding and adequate training. Even though it is relatively safe, it’s good to keep in mind that Bangkok has a population of 12 million people so one should take the normal precautions that would be taken in any city that is so large.

AATZ: Dar es Salaam is a fairly safe city and Tanzania is a stable country, especially in relation to most of the countries that surround it. While security is not a big concern, it is always good to avoid taking unnecessary risks, as in any place.

AAMX: It’s mostly safe. We try and make sure that all volunteers live in safe neighborhoods. Security is a concern for South America in general but it really comes down to where people hang out (and with whom they hang out) and the time of the day they walk on the streets.

  • Are there particular health concerns that I need to be aware of? What is the availability of health care services like for volunteers?

AAE: Ecuador has world class emergency facilities and medical attention. All VAs are required to have international health insurance, and everyone should get their vaccinations updated before arriving. Quito is not in a malarial zone, though if you wish to travel to the Amazon region of Ecuador during your stay, this may be a consideration. Quito is above 9000 ft, and it usually takes people a week or so to adjust to the altitude. This should pose no long-­term concerns, however. Volunteers receive some training on health issues, and should take basic food safety precautions while living in Ecuador.

AAT: Health care facilities are very good in Thailand and generally cheaper than similar services in the United States. Health risks in Bangkok include, pollution related respiratory problems, HIV prevalence, occasional swine flu outbreaks, some malaria and dengue fever. Also it is recommended that individuals drink bottled or filtered water while in Bangkok. A good website to consult for further health related tips for expats is: http://www.bupa­intl.com/health/in­our­perspective/thailand­expat­health­guide

AATZ: Malaria is always a concern, and though the particular strain of Malaria in TZ is not the most destructive, it is good to be on a prophylactic. You can’t drink tap water as it often carries stomach parasites, and you have to be a little careful with street food as sometimes it is undercooked. Asylum Access Tanzania also offers more thorough pre-departure packets containing information on the health provisions specific to the country. These will include but won’t be limited to: vaccine recommendations, security pointers, specific guidance regarding street food/tap water, and details concerning the best medical centers in the area.

AAM: Asylum Access Malaysia offers pre-departure packets containing information on the health provisions specific to the country. These will include but won’t be limited to: vaccine recommendations, security pointers, guidance regarding street food/tap water, and details concerning the best medical centers in the area.

AAMX: Not for MX. Health care is more available in bigger cities—it’s basic in smaller cities i.e. mostly primary care practitioners.

  • What kind of a budget do most volunteers live on?

Due to several factors, such as currency volatility and individual standard of living, it is difficult to accurately list an average budget. For more information about our countries of operation, please conduct research to determine your comfort level.

AAE: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador

AAT: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand

AATZ: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/tanzania

AAM: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/malaysia

AAMX: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico

  • How long has Asylum Access been operating abroad?

AAE: Asylum Access has been operating in Ecuador since 2007.

AAM: Asylum Access has been operating in Malaysia since 2014.

AAMX: Asylum Access has been operating in Mexico since the summer of 2015.

AAT: Asylum Access has been operating in Thailand since 2007.

AATZ: Asylum Access has been operating in Tanzania since the summer of 2009.

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