The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines “refugees” as people who are outside their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and who cannot or do not want to return home. They must be recognized by the UNHCR through the refugee status determination (RSD) procedure, during which the applicant proves he or she is a refugee.

The UNHCR only refers 1 percent of all refugees to third country resettlement.  The UNHCR will try to return refugees to their home country or settle in the current country of residence.  The countries that have established resettlement programs include: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. The UNHCR then refers refugees to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP).

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) oversees the USRP by developing application criteria, refugee admission ceilings, and presenting eligible cases to a division within the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If the refugee application meets all the criteria, a USCIS officer travels to interview the refugee applicant and help them complete the USCIS Form I-590 and gather their family biographical information.  The USCIS officer also determines if the applicant is considered a refugee under the U.S. law. Importantly, recognition as a refugee by UNHCR does not guarantee recognition by the USRP.

Once approved, applicants are matched with one of the eleven refugee resettlement organization that will care for the refugees as they settle into their American lives.  World Relief is one of these organizations.

The final steps before coming to the U.S. include health and security screenings and cultural orientations, which may take anywhere from two months to two years. Once the individual has been screened, the International Organization for Migration arranges air travel for the U.S.-bound refugees. After the refugee’s arrival in the U.S., the resettlement organization takes over and helps the refugee apply for a social security number, school registration, medical evaluation and English training. Within six months of arrival, all working-age, capable refugees are expected to find jobs and become a contributing member of the American community.

Refugees may apply for Permanent Resident Alien status (green card) one year after arrival and apply for citizenship after five years.