The United States remains the largest resettlement country in the world while also contributing to life-sustaining assistance programs that have an impact on millions of refugees, displaced persons, and victims of conflict. The Bureau, as part of its commitment to strengthening the effectiveness of U.S. refugee assistance and admissions programs, travels to various regions around the world to assess resettlement needs of refugees.
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. 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.
Tell me more about how the resettlement program works.
If UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or a non-governmental organization (NGO) refers the applicant for the US resettlement program, or gets access directly through International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Cairo or Amman a group called the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) prepares the case for presentation to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The OPE 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) sees 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.
How long will the whole process take?
This can vary. Worldwide, the average processing time is about eight to ten months. But every case is different, and the waiting time can vary. For instance, for Iraqis in Jordan, the processing time has generally been shorter – around five months. But again, there are exceptions.
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:
- Political opinion
- 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 fact sheet for more detail on family member eligibility.
Once a refugee arrives in 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 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 voluntary resettlement agency 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. In FY 2008, Iraqis are among the seventeen nationalities eligible for P-3 processing.
A refugee who has arrived in 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 two 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 voluntary 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 U.S.
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 can adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident. They can apply for citizenship after five years.
What benefits do I get in the US?
For more information about the State Department Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program, and what is expected of new arrivals, please click here. For more information on Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administered refugee benefits, please visit here.
Where can I get more advice about applying for resettlement?
You can get more information by writing to email@example.com.
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