This article explains which refugees the U.S. government considers for refugee resettlement. It also explains the process of U.S. refugee resettlement.
About the process to apply for U.S. refugee resettlement
U.S. refugee resettlement is also called the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). It is a legal pathway for refugees outside of the United States to move to the United States.
Which refugees does the U.S. government consider for refugee resettlement?
Most people cannot apply directly for U.S. refugee resettlement. The U.S. government considers people for resettlement for four different reasons. This section explains those reasons.
- Priority 1: Individual basis
First, refugees can be referred to for U.S. refugee resettlement on an individual basis. Most of these referrals come from UNHCR. Other referrals come from U.S. embassies or NGOs. These referrals are based on a refugee's needs in their country of asylum. In exceptional cases, refugees can be referred in their country of origin based on needs there.
- Priority 2: Membership in a designated group
Refugees can also be considered for resettlement if they belong to a group that the U.S. government considers to be in need of resettlement.
Some groups are identified by UNHCR. They cannot apply directly for refugee resettlement. Examples of groups that UNHCR identified include:
- Ethnic minorities and others from Burma in camps in Thailand.
- Ethnic minorities from Burma in Malaysia.
- Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
- Congolese refugees in Rwanda
- Congolese in Tanzania.
People in some other groups can apply to the U.S. government for refugee resettlement. In some cases, they can apply while they are inside their country of origin. These groups change. Current groups that can apply as of November 2020:
- Some Iraqis who worked in Iraq for the U.S. government, a U.S. government contractor, a U.S.-based news or nonprofit organization.
- The close relatives of someone who worked for any of those groups can also apply.
- Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government or who have close relatives who worked for the U.S. government can apply for the Direct Access Program. Information about refugee resettlement for Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government and their families is here.
- This program was suspended as of January 2021. IRAP does not know when Iraqi Direct Access Program processing will resume.
- Iraqi and Syrian beneficiaries of approved I-130 petitions. This is also called the Direct Access Program.
- Some Afghans who worked for the U.S. government, a U.S. government contractor or grantee, or a U.S.-based media or nongovernmental organization. Afghans must be referred by an employer. IRAP’s guide on this program is here.
- Iranian religious minorities. This is called the Lautenberg program.
- Certain religious minorities in Eurasia and the Baltics. This is also called the Lautenberg program.
- Certain people in Cuba.
People from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with relatives in the United States
The Central American Minors (CAM) program is a legal pathway for children and other family members facing persecution or danger in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to reunite with parents who are lawfully present in the United States. IRAP’s guide about this program is here.
- Priority 3: Close relatives
People who entered the U.S. as refugees or SIVs or who were granted asylum can apply for some relatives to join them. The relative in the U.S. can petition for a spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or parent. The person to move to the United States must also be a refugee. This means that they must be outside their country of nationality and have a fear of returning to their country of nationality for specific reasons. Information about resettlement for close relatives through Priority 3 is here.
- Follow-to-Join I-730
This program is similar to Priority 3. Refugees and people who were granted asylum can apply for their spouse and unmarried child under 21. The spouse and unmarried child can be of any nationality. They do not have to be outside their country of nationality or show that they are a refugee. Information about resettlement for close relatives through the I-730 process is here.
What is the process to apply for U.S. refugee resettlement?
The first steps in the U.S. resettlement process will vary based on which of the reasons above the U.S. government considers them for refugee resettlement. The links above give more information about what those steps are. Many times the steps to show that a person should be considered for refugee resettlement can take a long time.
If a person is in one of the categories listed above, they still have to complete the rest of the resettlement process. They may face very long delays. Their application can be rejected.
The U.S. government will open a file and issue the refugee a case number. The case number will have two letters and six numbers. The refugee will be contacted by a resettlement support center (RSC). These are organizations that help the U.S. government with the resettlement process. You can find the RSC for the country where you live here.
The RSC will have an interview with each family. In the interview, an employee of the RSC will:
- Collect documents.
- Ask about any harm that the applicant faced.
- Ask for information about the applicant’s relatives.
- Ask about the applicant’s work and residence history.
Refugees then have an interview with an officer from the U.S. government. More information about the USCIS interview is here.
After the interview, the U.S. government runs security checks. Refugees can wait for a very long time for an answer from the U.S. government. Information about what to do if you have long delays in a U.S. immigration process is here. The RSC might ask a refugee to complete a medical check while they are waiting.
The U.S. government might approve, defer, or deny an application. If an application is approved, a person will complete a medical check and cultural orientation. The U.S. government works with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to arrange travel for approved refugees. IOM will tell an approved refugee when and how they will travel to the United States.
The U.S. government might defer its decision. This means that the application is not approved or denied. The U.S. government needs more time to make a decision.
The U.S. government might deny a refugee for resettlement. More information about how to appeal a denial is here.