U.S. Refugee Admissions Program FAQs

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
May 23, 2014

(Note: An updated November 18, 2016 fact sheet was posted at //2009-2017.state.gov/j/prm/releases/factsheets/2016/264449.htm.)

Every year, the United States provides resettlement opportunities to thousands of the world's most vulnerable refugees, in a program endorsed by the President (and every President since 1980) through an annual determination. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), which resettled over 69,000 refugees in the United States in 2013, reflects our own tradition as a nation of immigrants and refugees. It is an important, enduring and ongoing expression of our commitment to international humanitarian principles. The United States remains the largest resettlement country in the world, receiving more than half of all refugees resettled worldwide each year through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is committed to improving the effectiveness of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and regularly assesses refugee populations worldwide to ensure that the program is responsive to the resettlement needs of the most vulnerable among them that require this solution.

Who exactly is eligible for resettlement?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has the international mandate to provide refugee assistance and to determine if resettlement in a third country - be it the United States or another country - is the right solution.

Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in a third country. UNHCR uses six criteria to determine if resettlement is appropriate. For more information on UNHCR standards and criteria for determining resettlement as the appropriate solution for refugees, please refer to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, available online at http://www.unhcr.org/4a2ccf4c6.html .

Tell me more about how the resettlement program works.

The UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or an authorized non-governmental organization (NGO) can refer a refugee to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Once a referral is made, a Resettlement Support Center (RSC) funded and managed by PRM prepares the case for presentation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The RSC helps the refugee and his /her family (if applicable) prepare their case file - taking photos, checking the facts in the files, collecting information for application and the security clearance process, etc. Applicants are then interviewed by an officer of DHS' United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The interviewer adjudicates the case. If approved, the applicant and his/her family undergo medical exams, which are standard for all applicants seeking to reside permanently in the United States.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) working under agreement with PRM in the U.S. then agrees to be the refugee's sponsor. Refugees approved for admission are offered a short cultural orientation program to introduce them to life in the United States. Once all security and health checks are complete, refugees are scheduled for travel to the US.

How much time does the entire process typically require?

Worldwide, the average processing time is about 18 to 24 months. But every case is different, and processing times vary.

How do you decide who gets in to the United States under this program and who doesn't?

The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to make this decision. Under U.S. law, a refugee must have a well-founded fear of persecution based on one of the five “protected grounds”:

  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group

Furthermore, a refugee must be deemed admissible to the U.S. and not be firmly resettled in a third country. For a list of grounds that would disqualify a refugee from resettling in the United States, please visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website at http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis .

Is my nuclear and/or extended family eligible to join me?

Generally a "case" consists of the principal applicant, his or her spouse, and unmarried children under the age of 21. Additional relatives may be considered on a case by case basis. Please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding the P-2 for Approved Iraqi 130 Beneficiaries for more information.

Once a refugee arrives in the United States and would like to petition for other members of his/her immediate family to join them, a number of avenues are available. Under Priority Three (P-3) processing, a refugee or asylee who is at least 18, and been in the U.S. in refugee or asylee status for no more than five years can file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) for a spouse, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21. This form must be submitted to the Department of State through a resettlement agency affiliate in the refugee's geographic area. This program is only open to designated nationalities, set by the Bureau in consultation with DHS/USCIS at the beginning of each fiscal year. DNA testing of refugees/asylees and certain family members overseas is a requirement of this program. The P-3 program has been operating since October 15, 2012 following a four year suspension of the program after high rates of relationship fraud were discovered. A refugee who has arrived in the United States, or a person granted asylum in the United States, can also file a Form I-730 (Visa 93) for spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. There are no restrictions on nationalities that can file this petition, but it must be filed with USCIS within two years of arrival in the United States. The Form I-730 may be downloaded from the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov) and can be submitted directly to USCIS without the aid of a resettlement agency. However, a refugee may consult with a resettlement agency in his/her geographic location for details about this program.

Lastly, a refugee has the option of filing a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative upon arrival in the United States. However, only U.S. citizens or refugees with Permanent Resident Alien status are eligible to file this petition. Depending on their legal status in the U.S., applicants may apply on behalf of spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Please visit the USCIS website for eligibility requirements and filing instructions.

What if someone in my family doesn't get the visa? Can he or she reapply?

Approved refugees do not get visas. They receive a packet of documents and information that allows them to enter the U.S.

Anyone whose resettlement application is denied can request that DHS reconsider his/her case.

If I go to the U.S. as a refugee, do I automatically become a U.S. citizen?

No. Refugees are admitted to the U.S. as refugees and remain in that status for 12 months. They are, however, authorized and expected to work during this time. After 12 months, they are required to adjust their status to that of Permanent Resident Alien. They can apply for citizenship after having been resident in the United States for five years.

What benefits do I get in the U.S.?

For more information about the State Department Refugee Reception and Placement Program, and what is expected of new arrivals, please click the Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program One Pager. For more information on Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administered refugee benefits, please visit the HHS website.