Refugee resettlement, especially to the United States, can take a very long time. In many cases, it can take several years.
In some situations, UNHCR will first interview to confirm whether a person is a refugee or not. This is called refugee status determination. IRAP's guide on the RSD process is here.
Unfortunately, most refugees are not considered for resettlement because of the small numbers of refugees who are resettled. Usually UNHCR requires at least one interview to decide whether to refer a refugee to a third country for resettlement. This interview process can take several months or longer.
If UNHCR decides to refer a refugee for resettlement, they submit the refugee’s file to one country. It can take several months to transfer information from UNHCR to the government.
In most situations, applicants cannot choose the country where they want to be resettled. UNHCR may consider factors like which country a refugee prefers, where their relatives live, and their language skills. But UNHCR will make the final decision.
In some cases, UNHCR will interview a person for resettlement and decide not to refer them to a government for resettlement. This could be for many reasons. UNHCR might decide that the refugee does not have the kind of urgent needs that need immediate resettlement. UNHCR may believe that governments would be unlikely to accept the person because of their profile or background.
Steps in the resettlement process with a government
Once UNHCR refers a person to a government, that government decides whether it will resettle an individual. The government stages of the process also usually take several months or longer. For the United States, this process can take several years. Most governments also require interviews and paperwork to decide whether to resettle an individual. Many governments have additional requirements for refugee resettlement.
Governments can reject people from refugee resettlement. Information for people who receive rejections from the United States for refugee resettlement is available here.
Refugees who are resettled can usually travel with their spouse and minor children. Governments have different limitations on family reunification. This website provides some information on family reunification in Canada, Germany, and the United States.
UNHCR’s Resettlement Handbook is available in English here. It describes UNHCR processes and standards.
If UNHCR or a government is considering you for resettlement, you should know that the process can take a very long time, often several years. You should also:
- Make sure that officials at UNHCR or the government office have your address and contact information.
- Respond to their requests or information.
- Make sure to attend all of your scheduled appointments or to let officials know if you will not be able to attend.
Are there other ways to move to resettlement countries?
Governments offer other, limited options for some refugees to travel legally. In some cases, some refugees might be eligible for immigration based on family or employment. This website provides information on some of those pathways, including:
- Visas for Afghans and Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military.
- Family reunification. This allows some people to move to be with close relatives who live in countries like Canada, Germany, and the United States.
How can IRAP help me with the refugee resettlement process?
IRAP is not a part of any government or UNHCR. IRAP cannot make decisions to submit your case to a government for resettlement. IRAP cannot make decisions for any government to accept your case for resettlement. IRAP also cannot make decisions on visas or other pathways. IRAP cannot provide financial help, find or pay for housing, or find jobs.
IRAP can help some people in these situations:
- In some countries, IRAP can request that UNHCR consider helping some refugees:
- Who face personal and serious threats against their lives of physical safety.
- Who face medical issues that threaten their lives or physical function, and who cannot access medical care.
- IRAP may be able to provide advice or help:
- If an asylum-seeker is seeking refugee status recognition with UNHCR in certain countries.
- If UNHCR or a government are considering a refugee for resettlement.
- If a refugee is eligible for another kind of visa, such as a visa for family reunification to some countries.
You or your relative may want to ask an immigration attorney for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
- Information about asking for help from IRAP is here.
- If you are in Jordan, you can ask for IRAP Jordan’s help using this form. If the form is closed, you can check back at a later date.
- A list of free immigration legal service providers in the United States is available here.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here.