Iraqi Refugee Resettlement

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

As of January 31, 2014, there were 93,498 Iraqi refugees registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries, and an unknown number of unregistered refugees. The UNHCR estimates that more than 900,000 Iraqis remain internally displaced since the February 2006 Samarra Mosque bombings. However, more than 400,000 Iraqis have been displaced in recent months due to violence in Anbar governorate and because of flooding in Abu Ghraib. Determining the actual numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) remains challenging as the majority of displaced Iraqis live in urban settings interspersed among the local population.

What type of help is available for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons? What is the US doing to help displaced Iraqis?

The United States government is the largest single donor to the effort to help Iraqis who are displaced, both inside Iraq and outside the country. Since 2007, the USG has provided over $1.7 billion for assistance to Iraqi refugees and IDPs including food, shelter, health care, livelihoods support, and other assistance, through the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development, to international organizations and non-governmental organizations. In Fiscal Year 2013 the U.S. government contributed more than $196 million to these groups for their work. Another important part of our effort to help Iraqi refugees is our program that considers refugees who are referred by UNHCR or who have worked for the U.S. government (see below) for resettlement to the United States.

What about Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey or elsewhere who feel they cannot return home, and want to resettle in the United States?

Any Iraqi who has fled Iraq should register with an office of UNHCR. Registering affords some protection to the refugee and allows UNHCR to assess his or her needs.

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.

Iraqis with U.S. affiliations have the option of applying to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program directly, without the need for a referral. Please see U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s website for more information:

How can Iraqi refugees resettle in the U.S.?

Working with the Department of Homeland Security, and Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs), such as the International Organization for Migration, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration processes resettlement cases. Between October 1, 2006 and April 30, 2014, the U.S. admitted over 103,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement.

During the same time period, the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs issued more than 15,000 special immigrant visas (SIVs) through the program for U.S. Affiliated Iraqis who were employed by or worked for or directly with the U.S. government in Iraq.

Who exactly is eligible for resettlement?

Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in a third country. Resettlement is often called "the option of last resort," i.e. the course for the most vulnerable groups of refugees. UNHCR has eleven criteria to determine if resettlement is appropriate, such as Iraqis who worked for the Multinational Force in Iraq or for the US government, households headed by women, and members of religious minorities. For more information on UNHCR standards and criteria for determining resettlement as the appropriate solution for refugees, please refer to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.

In addition, in 2008 changes in U.S. legislation created new categories of Iraqis in Jordan and Egypt who are eligible for direct access to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Through this expanded program, certain categories of Iraqi refugees who assisted with U.S. efforts in Iraq can contact an RSC, operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), directly and schedule an appointment without a referral from UNHCR or a U.S. embassy. Iraqis who are the spouses, sons, daughters, parents, brothers, or sisters of a citizen of the United States, or who are the spouses or unmarried sons or daughters of a Permanent Resident Alien of the United States, as established by their being or becoming beneficiaries of approved family-based I-130 Immigrant Visa Petitions are eligible for direct access to the USRAP in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

For those Iraqis who are still in Iraq and are facing persecution due to or because of an affiliation with the United States, processing is available in Baghdad, albeit in a limited capacity.

What if I'm part of a religious minority? Do I get special treatment?

As mentioned above, Iraqis who are members of religious minorities fall into one of the categories UNHCR uses to determine who is eligible for resettlement in a third country. We take claims of persecution based on religion very seriously during the adjudication process.

What if I worked for a US company that was a contractor to the United States government? Am I eligible to go? Will I receive the same consideration as someone who worked for the US government?

Yes. Any Iraqi who was hired directly by the US government, by the Multinational Force in Iraq, or by a US defense contractor in Iraq is eligible for consideration. Moreover, an Iraqi who falls into these categories and is living in Amman or Cairo can go directly to the offices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to register for resettlement without having to register first at UNHCR.

Is this a broader category than you had before? What's changed?

Yes. As of 2008, more people are eligible. Previously, only Iraqis who were direct hires of the USG, and interpreters/translators were eligible. The program now includes direct hires of US-based non-governmental organizations; direct hires of media organizations based in the US; Iraqis with close family in the US; and direct hires of all entities which receive US government funding.

Tell me more about how the resettlement program works.

If UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or an NGO refers the applicant for the US resettlement program, or gets access directly through IOM in Cairo or Amman (see above), an organization called the RSC prepares the case for presentation to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The RSC helps the refugee and his/her family (if applicable) prepare their dossier - taking photos, checking the facts in the files, etc. All applicants then go for an interview with an officer from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (part of DHS).

The interviewer adjudicates the case. If approved, the applicant and his/her family (again, if applicable) see a doctor to undergo medical exams, which is standard for all immigrant visa applicants around the world.

An NGO in the US agrees to be the refugee's sponsor. Iraqis, like other refugees resettling in the US, go through a cultural orientation program. Once all security and health checks are complete they are booked on a flight to the US.

This is the same process that refugees from around the world go through when applying for resettlement.

If I am an Iraqi, what is the first step I have to take to get this process started?

The first step is to go to the local UNHCR office - or, if you worked for the U.S. government, a U.S.-based governmental organization, a media organization based in the U.S., or any entity that receives U.S. government funding, you may go directly to the IOM offices in Jordan and Egypt. To contact them, please write to

How long will the whole process take?

This can vary. Worldwide, the average processing time is about 18-24 months. But every case is different, and the waiting time can vary.

Is this like a visa lottery? How do you decide who gets in and who doesn't?

The Department of Homeland Security has this authority. Under US law, a refugee must have a well-founded fear of prosecution 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 US. For a list of grounds that would disqualify a refugee from resettling in the United States, go to the Department of Homeland Security.

Is my family eligible to join me? Nuclear and extended family?

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

Once a refugee arrives to the United States and would like to petition for other members of his/her immediate and/or extended family to follow to join, 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 PRM 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 was re-started on October 15, 2012 following a four year suspension of the program after high rates of claimed relationship fraud were uncovered.

A refugee who has arrived to the United States can also file a Form I-730 (Visa 93) for spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. Although there are no restrictions on nationalities that can file this petition, it must be filed with USCIS within 2 years of arrival in the United States. This form may be downloaded from the USCIS website ( ) and can be submitted directly to USCIS without the aid of a resettlement agency. However, a refugee may consult with a voluntary agency in his/her geographic region for details about this program. (Note: both the P-3 and V93 options are also available for Iraqis who were granted asylum after arrival in the United States.)

Lastly, a refugee has the option of filing a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative upon arrival to the U.S. However, U.S. citizenship or Permanent Resident Alien status is required for this program. Applicants may apply on behalf of spouses, children, parents, and siblings, depending on the refugee's legal status in the U.S. Iraqi beneficiaries of approved I-130 petitions (both current and non-current) have the option of seeking direct access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, based on the approved I-130 and without the need for UNHCR or other referral. In order to qualify for resettlement under this program, I-130 beneficiaries must be interviewed by DHS and demonstrate that they are refugees and are otherwise admissible to the U.S. Please visit the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) website ( for more information about this special program. Please visit the DHS website for eligibility requirements and filing instructions (

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

First, approved refugees do not get visas, but a packet of documents and information that allows them to enter the US.

Anyone whose resettlement application is denied can re-apply to DHS.

If I go to the US as a refugee, do I automatically become a US citizen?

No. Refugees are admitted to the US as refugees and are in that status for 12 months, but they are authorized and expected to work during this time. After 12 months, they are required to adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident. They can apply for citizenship after 5 years.

Can I come back to Iraq after being resettled?

Refugees are accepted for resettlement based on a well-founded fear of returning to their country of origin. Returning to Iraq would seem to indicate that the fear is not well-founded.

That being said, there are no restrictions on travel once you arrive in the U.S. However, if you were to return to Iraq, there may be an issue upon re-entering the U.S. It would be important to check with the Department of Homeland Security before taking such travel.

How about when I'm still waiting in a country near Iraq? The application process for resettlement lasts several months. During that time am I allowed to go back to Iraq?

We strongly recommend that refugees who are awaiting adjudication of their resettlement cases remain where they are as long as they are in a safe location. First, because returning to Iraq could weaken their argument that they are at great risk in Iraq, and second, because the refugee and his family (if applicable) need to be available for meetings with the RSC and for the interview with DHS.

What if I am an applicant in Syria and I am afraid for my own safety?

Due to on-going security concerns and the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Syria, U.S. immigration officials are currently unable to enter Syria to conduct interviews. However, IOM continues to process cases that are in Syria and IOM continues to arrange for the safe departure of fully cleared cases to the United States from Syria as the security situation permits. We are aware that some refugees have left Syria due to security concerns. We cannot, however, advise you whether or not you should leave Syria. If you leave Syria for your safety and move to a neighboring country, including Iraq, the United States will continue to process your case in your new location. If an applicant leaves Syria, he/she should contact the Resettlement Support Center (IOM or ICMC) and UNHCR in the new location.

What if I'm still in Iraq? Can I apply to go to the US as a refugee? What options do I have?

Certain categories of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations may apply directly for consideration to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) in Iraq. Refugee processing inside Iraq will be limited by security and logistical constraints. We encourage the majority of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations to apply for USRAP consideration in Jordan or Egypt if possible.

You may learn about the specific eligibility criteria for this program by reading: Resettlement Program for Iraqis in Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.

Persons who believe that they are at risk or have experienced serious harm as a result of association with the U.S. government since March 20, 2003, and who wish to be considered for resettlement as refugees in the United States may initiate a case by contacting IOM at

What if I'm in another country, but my family is still in Iraq? Can I apply on their behalf?

If the family wishes to be considered for resettlement together, all family members must be in the same location. This is necessary for the meetings with the Resettlement Support Center, so the staff there can assemble the dossier on the refugee's case, and prepare him/her for the interview with DHS.

Spouses, sons, daughters, parents and siblings of an individual who has aided U.S. efforts in Iraq, or of an individual eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa as a result of his/her employment by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq are eligible for direct access consideration, provided that the relationship is verified.

What benefits do I get in the US?

Iraqi refugees receive the same benefits as all other refugees resettled to the U.S. For more information on Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administered refugee benefits, please visit

Where can I get more advice about applying for resettlement?

You can get more information by writing to

If you are an Iraqi refugee in Egypt or Jordan who is eligible for the "direct access" program (see question five above), you can contact the offices of IOM directly:

We encourage all Iraqi refugees who are outside of Iraq to register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Not only is registering the necessary first step for consideration for resettlement (for non-U.S. affiliated cases), but the staff can also answer clients' questions about health care, schools, housing, and other issues in the country of asylum.