Theories of language policy increasingly emphasise focusing on the specific contexts in which language management occurs. In government settings, policy seeks to shape how individuals interact with officials. Australian asylum procedure is an area where policy aims at tight control. I examine how communication is managed in this setting, in which successful outcomes are so important. After reviewing the relevant policy documents, I explore the experiences of individual refugees and migration agents through a series of qualitative interviews. I consider the relationship between language management, beliefs and practice in this context and find that individual experiences in this setting can differ. This article demonstrates the impact of several agents in the co-construction of the refugee narrative, noting that while standardisation is institutionally valued, variation is inevitable. The findings suggest that outcomes depend on much more than just official policy.