The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) provides free legal help to some refugees and displaced people.
- IRAP helps some people find services and prepare refugee and visa applications.
- IRAP is not part of any government, IOM, or UNHCR.
- IRAP cannot grant refugee status or visas or speed up cases.
- IRAP cannot provide financial help, find or pay for housing, or find jobs.
- All of IRAP’s help is free. No one affiliated with IRAP has the right to ask you for money or any other service.
IRAP decides to help people based on their need and eligibility for immigration status. IRAP does not decide to help people based on any other social or political or religious criteria.
This website provides general information about legal processes available to some refugees. It is not meant as legal advice for individual applications.
If you are in a refugee emergency, we recommend that you contact the UNHCR office in the country where you live .
This guide is for applicants who:
- Are outside of the U.S.; and
- Are applying for refugee resettlement through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program or Central American Minors (CAM) Program; and
- Were interviewed for resettlement to the U.S. by USCIS; and
- Were denied for resettlement to the U.S. after that interview; and
- Want to submit a ‘Request for Review’ (RFR) to appeal the decision.
This guide is not for refugees who were:
- Denied by UNHCR; or
- Denied for resettlement to countries other than the U.S.; or
- Are in the U.S.; or
- Applied for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Generally, USCIS will only accept one RFR. You must submit an RFR within 90 days of receiving your denial letter. If you miss the deadline, you can still submit an RFR that explains why your RFR is late. But USCIS may deny an RFR that was submitted late.
STEP ONE: Reflect on your interview experience
First, ask yourself these questions to understand what might have been the cause for your denial. This can help you determine what the focus of your RFR should be.
- Did the Refugee Officer focus on any particular part of your story?
- Did the Refugee Officer ask the same question multiple times?
- Did the Refugee Officer tell you about any particular issues or concerns about your case?
- Were there any misunderstandings during the interview?
- Did the Refugee Officer understand what you were saying?
- If there was an interpreter, were you aware of any problems with the interpreter or the interpretation?
- Did the Refugee Officer stop the interview at any point? If so, what happened immediately before the interview stopped?
- Did the Refugee Officer temporarily leave the room? If so, what happened immediately before the Officer left the room?
- How long was the interview?
- Were there important parts of your story you were not able to tell the Refugee Officer?
- Did the Refugee Officer say or do anything that made you feel uncomfortable?
STEP TWO: Review your denial letter
You will have received a denial letter from USCIS telling you that your case was denied. A denial letter is called a Notice of Ineligibility (NOI). Your resettlement support center (RSC) will give you the denial letter in person, by mail, or by email. Your RSC is IOM, ICMC, CWS, IRC, HIAS, or the State Department. If you did not get an NOI or if you lost your denial letter, you should contact your RSC. If you do not know how to reach your RSC, use IRAP’s guide on checking the status of a refugee case here.
There are seven possible boxes that could be checked on your denial letter. Click below for the box or boxes that were checked on your NOI.
- Refugee Claim
- Persecution of Others
- Firm Resettlement
- Other reasons
The box “Special Humanitarian Concern” is checked
If this box is checked, he officer did not think you were eligible for the US resettlement process. Many refugees are referred for resettlement by UNHCR.
If you were not referred by UNHCR, how were you able to apply? For example, did a U.S. family member file a document to begin your application? Did the Refugee Officer ask you for more evidence to prove your relationship to your relative? Did you qualify based on employment in Iraq or Afghanistan?
The box “Refugee Claim” is checked
The Refugee Officer decided that you do not meet the refugee definition. A person qualifies for resettlement only if:
- They have faced serious harm or fear that they will face serious harm in the future
- Because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
- In most instances, applicants must be outside their home country to qualify for refugee resettlement. In the CAM context, the applicant must still be in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
There are two other boxes: a) “Persecution” and b) “Protected Characteristic.” One or both boxes may be checked. This explains why the officer thinks you do not meet the refugee definition.
If the first box, “Persecution” is checked, the officer thought that you did not prove that you were significantly harmed in the past or that you have a reasonable fear of significant harm in the future. Serious harm includes physical harm, such as assault or death threats. It also includes non-physical harm, such as not being allowed to practice your religion. You can show that your fear is reasonable based on things that have happened to you. You can also show that people in similar situations to you faced serious harm.
If the second box, “Protected Characteristic” is checked, the officer thought that you did not prove that you were harmed or would be harmed because of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
If your refugee case to the U.S. was:
1) denied between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021; and
2) the “Refugee Claim” box was checked on your denial letter, then you may be able to request a new review of your application by USCIS. This is because of a change in U.S. asylum law in June 2021. Read this section below.
The box “Persecution of Others” is checked
The officer decided that you might have harmed or contributed to harming other people. You are not eligible for the resettlement process if you have persecuted others, even if you suffered persecution. For example, if you guarded a prison where people were tortured or drove prisoners to the prison, you may have contributed to the persecution of others. Ask yourself:
- Did you serve in the military during a time when the military was harming civilians?
- Did you ever belong to any political organizations that might have harmed other people?
- Do you have evidence that you can provide to show that you did not harm civilians even though you were in the military or in that organization at that time?
- Do you have evidence of your military service? This could include a military card that shows that you had a medical exemption, or testimony from another soldier who you served with.
The box “Firm Resettlement” is checked
The Refugee Officer decided that you could have applied for legal residence in another country. Ask yourself:
- Where did you travel to or live after fleeing from your home country?
- Did you or could you have applied for residency in any of those countries?
- If yes, how did you describe your life while living in those countries?
- Are you eligible for citizenship in any other country?
- If you could live in or obtain citizenship in another country, would you be unsafe if you were to live there?
The box “Admissibility” is checked
Part 1: This part is a handwritten line that may say one of the following examples:
INA § 212(a)(6)(C) - material misrepresentation. This means knowingly hiding or lying to the U.S. government about an important fact.
If you were denied for INA § 212(a)(6)(C), ask yourself these questions:
- Did you provide any documents to the U.S. government, UNHCR, or the RSC that were fake, or you are not sure if they were fake?
- Did you give incorrect or false information during your interview with the Refugee Officer?
- Have you previously applied for a U.S. visa and provided incorrect or false information?
INA § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) - crime involving moral turpitude. This means being previously convicted of or admitting to committing certain crimes that are considered serious.
If you were denied for INA § 212 (a)(3)(B), ask yourself these questions:
- Have you ever been arrested, charged or convicted of any crime in any country?
- Have you ever been detained by the police for a crime you did not commit?
- Have you ever been accused of a crime?
- Have you ever committed a crime that you did not get arrested for?
INA § 212(a)(3)(B) - providing material support for terrorism. This means participating with or supporting a group that uses force or violence. Almost any group that uses unlawful force or violence could potentially be considered a terrorist organization. Sometimes support can be indirect or small, like providing food for a member of a terrorist group. This can include support that you were forced to provide.
If you were denied for INA § 212 (a)(3)(B), ask yourself these questions:
- Have you provided money, food, shelter, or assistance, to any individuals or people in an organization?
- Have you supported any organization or convinced other people to join an organization?
- Did you talk about being part of or spending time with any organization, even if you did not have a choice to spend time with those groups?
Part 2: This part will say if you can apply for a waiver to a ground of inadmissibility. If you cannot obtain legal assistance, your RSC can help you complete a waiver application. You do not have a right to a waiver automatically. You must apply for a waiver that is needed either for humanitarian reasons, for you to remain with family members, or in the public interest.
If you apply for a waiver through your RSC, mention and bring evidence like:
- Issues that you face in the country where you live.
- Relationships with family in the U.S. or family scheduled to be resettled to the U.S.
- Any connections with the U.S., such as employment by the U.S. government.
For some types of inadmissibility, no waiver is available. The only way to overcome a denial is a successful RFR. If you were denied for inadmissibility and for another reason, you will not be allowed to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility unless your RFR is successful.
The box “Credibility” is checked
The Refugee Officer did not believe some of your statement. The letter will also state that the Refugee Officer discussed the concerns with you in the interview and that you did not provide a reasonable explanation. There should be two additional lists with additional boxes checked.
List 1: These boxes will indicate the topic where the officer did not believe you. These issues are the same five issues discussed above (special humanitarian concern, refugee claim, persecution of others, firm resettlement, admissibility) and “other.”
List 2: These boxes will indicate the reason why the officer felt like you were not being truthful. There are seven potential reasons:
- You made inconsistent statements during the interview.
- Statements you made during the interview were inconsistent with other evidence (such as a news article or public report).
- Your answers to important questions were not detailed enough.
- Your testimony was not ‘plausible’ to the officer. This means that the officer did not think what you stated could reasonably have happened, based on what they know from public information about the situation in your country.
- The officer believed that you were lying. This could be because of the way you acted during the interview, the way that you responded to a question, or the way that you did not respond to a question.
- The officer believed that there was evidence that you could have provided but did not provide.
- Did you discuss any topics in your USCIS interview in a different way than you did in past interviews?
- Did the interviewer make you repeat any part of your story?
- Are you a survivor of trauma? Do you have difficulties remembering details of your story, or remembering them consistently? Are you receiving psychological treatment? Did you mention this to the Refugee Officer?
The box “Other Reasons” is checked
When a case is denied for “Other Reasons,” the U.S. is denying the case based on its “discretion.” If any of the other boxes is checked, then the U.S. must deny the application. If this box is checked, it means that the U.S. did not have to deny the application, but after reviewing all of the information that it had about the applicant it chose to deny the case. Many times, when a case is denied for “Other Reasons” it is because of security-related reasons. This may or may not be written on the NOI.
The issue may not have been discussed in your interview. The issue may have been found during U.S. government security checks.
When a refugee is denied for a security-related issue, a refugee applicant may write a request for review (RFR) of the decision. If you submit an RFR, it often takes more time to review and may be a year or more before you receive a decision. In IRAP's experience, it is very rare for this type of denial to be reversed.
In preparing an RFR for your case denied for discretionary or “other” reasons, you should ask yourself the questions below. If the answer to a question is “yes,” then you should explain the situation in your RFR in detail. You should include any evidence that supports your answer as an attachment.
- Are you aware of any arrests, misunderstandings, or complaints about you that might cause problems with U.S. security checks or that the officer asked about?
- Do you know anyone who has ever had ties to a terrorist group?
- Did you ever belong to a political group or organization that the U.S. government views as having ties to terrorists?
- Have you ever paid a ransom to a criminal or terrorist group?
- Have you ever been a member of a gang, or have family or friends who are gang members?
- If you worked for the U.S. government, did you ever have a security violation during that work?
- Were you ever arrested or detained by authorities?
- Did you ever engage in combat or provide military service?
- Was there anything on your social media accounts or people you communicated with that the officer asked security-related questions about?
- Are you aware of any arrests, misunderstandings, or complaints involving your family, including any sponsoring family member in the U.S., that might cause problems with the U.S. security checks?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, is there any new evidence or explanation that you have not already submitted to USCIS? New evidence could include documents, police reports, or letters from witnesses explaining why you are not a threat to U.S. security.
- Do you know any U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR, also known as green card holders) who can write a new letter of support showing that you are not a threat to U.S. security? For information on what can be included in this kind of letter, see here.
Your RFR can also discuss any important reasons why the U.S. should approve your application. Reasons that may be important to the decision-maker include:
- Family members who live in the U.S.
- Other ties to the U.S. such as working with the U.S. military.
- Specific harms that you or your family members will face if you are not admitted.
STEP THREE: Make your case
Your RFR letter must do one or both of these things:
- Explain in detail that the officer made a significant error that led to the denial.
- Provide new evidence that could change the decision.
What kind of significant error would reopen my USRAP case?
You must show that the USCIS officer made a significant error that led to the denial. Ask yourself:
- Did the Refugee Officer allow you to explain the most important parts of your story?
- Were there parts of your story the Refugee Officer did not ask you about?
- Did the Refugee Officer allow you to explain any evidence that you brought to your interview?
- Did the Refugee Officer ask you to explain why you did not bring other materials to support your story?
- If the officer believed that your story was inconsistent, did the officer ask you to explain the inconsistency?
Here are some common examples of significant errors. This is not a complete list. If you can think of something else that went wrong, you should explain your situation.
- The officer did not ask about important facts about your refugee claim.
Example: In her refugee interview, the applicant said that she had been arrested, but she did not explain that she was arrested by mistake. The Refugee Officer did not ask her about the arrest and then denied her refugee application because the Officer found that she committed a crime.
- You were not able to provide some supporting evidence in your interview. The officer did not ask about why you did not provide the evidence.
Example: In his refugee interview, the applicant said that his family forced him to leave the house because of his religious beliefs. The applicant did not include any evidence because it was with his friend in his home country. The Refugee Officer did not give the applicant a chance to explain why he did not include the proof.
- The officer did not allow you to explain inconsistencies in your story.
Example: The applicant said that he was kidnapped in 2008. He also said later in the interview that he was kidnapped in 2007. The officer did not let the applicant explain why the applicant listed two different dates.
What kind of new information would support my case?
You must have new information that supports the claims you made in your interviews. This new information can be evidence that you had during your refugee interview but that you did not bring or evidence that you collected after your refugee interview. The new evidence must relate to the reason for your denial. For example, if you were denied because you committed a serious crime, new evidence showing that you are in danger does not address the reason for the denial.
STEP FOUR: Gather supporting documents
What documents should I include?
Here are some common types of evidence to include in your RFR. This is not a complete list. Other documents might be useful in your case. Never use fake or fraudulent documents in your RFR.
Official Documents: You may submit documents like:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Medical records
- Military service records
- Documents from your employer if you were employed by an international NGO or company
- Police reports.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have any documents that you did not submit during your original interview?
- Are there any related documents that a family member, friend, or neighbor in your home country can send to you? This could include letters, personal papers, or ID cards.
- Are there any documents that you can request from an organization? This could include medical records from a hospital, a police report from your local police station, or a copy of your diploma from your school.
- Declarations: A declaration is a written statement with facts that a person declares are true. A friend or family member can write and sign a statement to support your RFR. Their statement should describe what they know about your situation or what they saw. All statements must be signed. Include as much detail as possible. Always tell the truth.
- Did you lose or destroy any important documents, like your military ID or a threatening letter? If you did, do you know someone who saw the document? Would that person write a letter describing what they saw?
- Are there people who can describe some of your story? For example, if a neighbor saw someone attack you, would that person write a letter describing what they saw?
- Other Supporting Evidence: Submit any other evidence that would address the reason for denial.
- Evidence about your situation, like newspaper articles or reports from advocacy groups.
- Evidence of threats you faced, like photos, text messages, Whatsapp messages, or threatening letters.
- Evidence that you did not commit a crime, like court documents..
- Evidence that you did not persecute others, like military documents.
What should I say about these documents?
For any new evidence you did not bring to your original refugee interview, explain why you did not bring it. For example, if you had evidence with you at your interview, but you did not give it to the Refugee Officer, you can explain that the Refugee Officer did not ask for documents. If you were able to get documents after the interview, explain if it was difficult to obtain important documents from your country of origin.
What should I say if I cannot get any documents?
If you cannot get important documents that you know exist, explain why you cannot get the documents. For example, if you threw away a threatening letter, explain why you did not keep the threatening letter. Never submit false documents. Instead, think of other ways to show the information. For example, get a signed letter from a family member or neighbor who knows about the situation.
STEP FIVE: Write the RFR
Part 1: Introduction (3-5 sentences)
Write three to five sentences explaining why your case should be approved. This section must explain one or both of these things:
- How a significant error led to your denial
- Why new evidence shows that you should be resettled.
If you are submitting the RFR more than 90 days after you received the denial letter, explain why you have a good reason for submitting the RFR late. For example, you did not receive the denial letter, you do not speak or write English, or you face serious health problems.
Part 2: Your Story (1-5 pages)
Tell your story. This should include a detailed explanation of why you cannot return to your country and why you cannot stay in the country where you now live. Explain what happened in your refugee interview. Tell your story in the order it happened.
Tell the truth. Any lies or exaggerations can harm your case and any future immigration applications.
Part 3: Refugee Claim (1-2 pages)
Explain why you meet the refugee definition. Show that you were harmed or might face harm because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
Part 4: Detailed Explanation of Significant Error and/or New Evidence (1-5 pages)
Include a detailed explanation of why your RFR should be granted. Remember, you should explain one or both of:
- A mistake that the officer or U.S. government made in your case
- New information that you can provide.
Part 5: Information for a U.S. Supporter: Writing a Letter of Support for a Refugee Applicant Denied for “Other” or “Discretionary” Reasons
This information is for a U.S. Citizen or resident who is interested in writing a letter to support a refugee family member or friend to appeal a denial of a refugee application that was denied for “Other” or “Discretionary” reasons. If you are a refugee, send this information to your friends or family members in the United States.
A letter of support should include examples about the refugee’s good character. It should emphasize that you have no reason to believe that they are a threat to U.S. security. It should urge USCIS to reconsider the case. The letter should be personal and detailed. It should include as many examples as you can provide.
These questions are meant to help you understand what information is useful to include in a letter. You do not need to answer all of the questions. The letter should be written in paragraph format, not in the form of questions and answers.
- General Background
- Who are you?
- Mention if you are a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
- What is your current job?
- How do you know the refugee applicant?
- What is your current relationship with the refugee applicant?
- Endorsement of the refugee applicant
- Describe what makes the refugee applicant a good person.
- State that to the best of your knowledge, the refugee applicant presents no threat to the national security or safety of the U.S.
- Current threats facing the refugee applicant
- Are you aware of any the threats that led the refugee applicant to leave his home country? If so, describe.
- Describe the threats and risks facing other people with similar backgrounds as the refugee applicant back in his home country. For instance, if your friend worked for the U.S. military in Iraq, describe what you know to have happened to other Iraqis who worked for the U.S. military.
- End with a statement that you believe that the U.S. should reconsider the refugee applicant’s denial and that the applicant should be accepted as a refugee.
STEP SIX: Submitting the RFR
IRAP recommends confirming how to correctly submit your RFR with your RSC.
These websites show current instructions for filing RFRs:
- Submitting an RFR from Europe, Middle East and Africa
- Submitting an RFR from the Asia Pacific region
- Submitting an RFR from Latin America, Canada and the Caribbean
If the country where you were interviewed does not have filing instructions on these websites, contact your RSC.
Here are some important things to remember:
- Make sure the RFR is typed or handwritten in English. Use a trusted translator.
- Sign the last page of the RFR in black pen.
- Attach declarations, copies of official documents, and supporting evidence at the end. Make sure to include the English translations as well.
- Important Information for Central American Minor (CAM) Applicants: For CAM RFRs, you should specify in communication with IOM and in the submission of the RFR if you do or do not wish for the RFR to pause your CAM parole processing. If you do not specify, your CAM parole process will likely stop until the RFR is reviewed and decided. But if you do explain that you want the RFR and CAM parole processes to proceed at the same time, the government should honor that request. You can say to IOM and put in the submission of the RFR email a sentence such as “I respectfully request for my CAM parole processing to continue during the processing of my RFR.” If your parole process is paused, then you will not risk paying for a medical exam or travel unnecessarily, if your RFR results in refugee status. But if your parole process is paused during the review of your RFR, you may not travel to the United States for many months or years. If your parole process is not paused, then you may travel to the United States as a CAM parolee before your RFR is decided. This means you may reach the United States as soon as possible. Your RFR case will be considered closed only when you travel to the United States through CAM parole.
What happens next?
It can take three to six months, or as long as several years, to get the answer to your RFR. If you do not have a response after six months, you should follow up with your RSC. You can follow up regularly to check on the status of your RFR.
You should receive a written decision regarding the RFR through your RSC or from USCIS directly. If your address changes after you submit your RFR, you should let your RSC know.
An RFR may result in USCIS accepting your case, interviewing you again, or rejecting your case. In some cases, USCIS will send you a letter and ask for more information.
What if my RFR is denied?
If your RFR is denied, your case is considered closed and USCIS will take no further action. In rare situations an individual can file a second RFR and request that USCIS review it. This option is not likely to succeed unless you have significant new evidence.
If your CAM refugee case RFR is denied, then your CAM parole case will continue, unless you receive a notice that the CAM parole case is also denied. If that happens, the denial letter will state if USCIS is giving you the opportunity to do an RFR on the parole denial as well. Often, the parole denial will be for “presence of negative factors.” These denials are hard to overcome.
New evidence can be helpful if:
- The new evidence it was not available when the first RFR was submitted; and/or
- Your situation is now significantly different.
The new evidence must support the facts of your refugee story that you already told to the interviewer and address the specific reason for your denial.
If you submit a second RFR, USCIS may not review it. If you submit a second RFR, be prepared to receive a decision that says your RFR was denied because you already filed an RFR. Unfortunately, there is no way to appeal this decision.
Information for Cases that were Denied Between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021 and the “Refugee Claim” box was checked
If your refugee case to the U.S. was:
1) denied between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021; and
2) the “Refugee Claim” box was checked on your denial letter, then you may be able to request a new review of your application by USCIS. This is because of a change in U.S. asylum law in June 2021.
This change in law comes from two decisions by the Attorney General (Matter of A-B- III and Matter of L-E-A- III). In the decisions, the Attorney General “vacated” or overturned two earlier decisions. The earlier decisions limited who could be considered a refugee from June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021. If your application was denied during that time period because of a “Refugee Claim” issue, USCIS may be willing to reconsider an application under the new standard.
Please note that USCIS’s decision to accept an RFR is discretionary, The change in law does not mean that any individual case will qualify. IRAP does not know if USCIS will consider an RFR or overturn any case.
Below is a template you can use if your case was denied between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021 and the “Refugee Claim.” The RFR must be in English. You must submit the RFR to the RSC that processed your case. If you are not sure where to submit an RFR you can use the “Where do I file my RFR?” section of USCIS’s website here.
[RSC Case Number]
This is a request for review to ask that USCIS reopen my refugee application because of a significant change in law.
On June 16, 2021, the Attorney General issued two decisions affecting who qualifies for refugee states, Matter of A-B- III and Matter of L-E-A- III. Those decisions overturned law in effect between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021 that limited who could be considered a refugee.
USCIS denied my application between June 11, 2018 and June 16, 2021, and USCIS because of an issue with my “Refugee Claim.” Because of the change in law, USCIS should reopen my application, reconsider it under current law, reinterview me if necessary, and decide if I qualify for refugee status under current law.
[You can add any additional information or evidence about why you qualify as a refugee here. If this is your first RFR or you want more information on challenging a “Refugee Claim” denial, please read IRAP’s guide for denied refugee applicants.]
[If this is your second RFR: Although I have filed an RFR before, USCIS should exercise discretion to review this new RFR because it is responding to a change in law.]
[If it is more than 90 days after a denial: Although it is more than 90 days after my refugee application was denied, I am filing this RFR as soon as I can after a change in law.]
I prepared my letter using a template written by the International Refugee Assistance Project. I do not have a lawyer representing me in my refugee application. If I do get a lawyer in the future, they may supplement this letter with additional evidence. Thank you for reviewing my refugee application.
[RSC Case Number]
Asking for help
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. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here. Please note that private immigration attorneys may charge a fee for their services. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.