Who is a Refugee?

Under U.S. law, a refugee is a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or a membership in a particular social group. If the person is not in the United States, he or she may apply overseas for inclusion within the U.S. refugee program. If the person is already within the United States, he or she may apply for the U.S. asylum program

This definition of a refugee does not include those people who have left their homes only to seek a more prosperous life. Such people are commonly referred to as “economic migrants,” and are not refugees. People fleeing civil wars and natural disasters also may be ineligible for refugee resettlement under U.S. law, although they may fall within the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNHCR interviews those who believe they are refugees to decide whether they qualify for UNHCR protection. The preferred solution for most refugees is to return home as soon as it is safe for them to do so. Only the relatively few who cannot remain in countries of first asylum or who cannot eventually return home will be considered for third country resettlement. If the UNHCR determines that the appropriate durable solution in an individual’s case is resettlement in a third, the case may be referred by UNHCR for resettlement in the U.S. If a person is referred by UNHCR for resettlement in the U.S., or if the person appears to be a member of a specific group determined by the U.S. Government to be in need of protection, that person may be interviewed by an officer of the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) who will decide whether that person is a refugee under U.S. law and thus eligible for resettlement. UNHCR and BCIS must understand the applicant’s situation clearly in order to make such a decision, so it is especially important that the applicant provide as much detail as possible about why the person left his or her country. This information will remain confidential and will only be available to those persons who are employed or contracted by the U.S. government.


Which refugees are eligible for resettlement in the United States?

Each year, the U.S. resettles a limited number of refugees. Refugees may be eligible for an BCIS interview for resettlement in the U.S. if: UNHCR or the U.S. Embassy refers them to the U.S. for resettlement, or They are members of specified groups with special characteristics in certain countries as determined periodically by the United States government. (For some groups, only those with relatives in the U.S. are eligible.) Generally, refugees must be outside their homelands to be eligible for the U.S. refugee program, though the U.S. processes application from refugees in their home countries in a few places. (currently, the U.S. has such programs in Cuba, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union).

Even if the applicant is determined by the BCIS to be a refugee, refugees with criminal records or certain serious health problems may be inadmissible to the U.S. Ineligibility for the U.S. refugee program does not necessarily preclude eligibility for UNHCR protection or resettlement in other countries. The following is a list of grounds for which a refugee may not be admitted to the U.S.:

A person who is determined to have a communicable disease of public health significance
A person who is determined to have certain serious physical or mental disorders
A person who is determined to be a drug abuser or addict
A former citizen of the U.S. who renounced citizenship for tax purposes
A person who has committed a crime of moral turpitude
A person who has violated laws pertaining to controlled substances
A person who has been convicted of two or more criminal offenses
A person who has committed prostitution within the past ten years
An individual who has committed serious crimes and has been granted immunity from prosecution
A person who is intending to practice polygamy in the United States
A person who is attempting to enter the U.S. in violation of U.S. immigration laws, or assists another person to do so
A person who has been involved in international child abduction
A person who is intending to enter the U.S. to conduct illegal activities
A person whose admission to the U.S. would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences to the U.S.
A person who is or has been a member of the communist or any other totalitarian party
A person who has engaged in any way in the persecution of others on the basis of race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
Many, but not all, of the grounds listed above may be waived by the Attorney General upon application by the refugee applicant.


I am not a member of a “nationality of special humanitarian concern” on the current U.S. list. Does this mean I cannot resettle in the U.S.?

The U.S. admits a few refugees from other countries each year under special circumstances. For further information contact UNHCR or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate on the possibility of obtaining a referral to the U.S. refugee program.


How can I find out if I am eligible for resettlement in the United States?

If you believe that you might be eligible for resettlement in the U.S., make your interest known to UNHCR or the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your area. If you have relatives in the United States, they should contact the nearest refugee resettlement agency for advice and help in preparing the necessary forms in support of your application.

What kind of processing can I expect under the U.S. program?

Non-governmental processing agencies carry out most of the preparation case-work for BCIS interviews. These agencies interview applicants, help prepare the applications for the BCIS , and arrange medical examinations and background checks (for security purposes) for those refugees approved by BCIS . Following BCIS approval, the processing agency also asks for the names and addresses of any relatives in the U.S., for details on the person’s work history and job skills, and on any special educational or medical needs of the refugee and accompanying family members, in order to determine the best resettlement arrangements for the refugee.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) generally arranges transportation to the U.S. on a loan basis. Refugees are expected to repay the cost of their transportation once they are established in the U.S. Refugees or their relatives may, of course, pay their own transportation costs in advance.


What family members may accompany me to the United States if I am approved?

Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 who are with you at the refugee interview will be given refugee status, which is derived from your status. If your spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 are not with you at the time of your BCIS interview, they will be able to follow you to the U.S., but you will have to file a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, Form I-730, for each of these family members. In either case, your dependent relative must also be otherwise admissible to the U.S. Other relatives may qualify for resettlement in the U.S. if they meet the U.S. refugee criteria with their own claims.

What can I expect if I am resettled in the United States?

The United States is a land of great diversity. Refugees may be resettled in small towns or big cities. If you have a close relative already in the U.S., you will probably be resettled where they live. If you do not, a resettlement agency will decide the best place for you based on the availability of jobs and services. Refugees are expected to go to the assigned site and remain there during their initial resettlement.

The resettlement agency, often called the “sponsor,” is the most important source of information and assistance during the first months of adjustment to life in the U.S. An agency representative will meet you at the airport, arrange for housing, and prepare a resettlement plan that includes initial contact with governmental services and employment agencies. If you are approved and you do not have a sponsor in the U.S., sponsorship will be arranged.

In order to retain your refugee status in the U.S., you may not travel outside of the U.S. unless you first obtain permission to return before your travel. If you choose to travel, you should first contact the nearest BCIS office for the appropriate forms to request for permission to reenter the U.S.

What will be expected of me as a new arrival?

Americans value hard work and initiative. You should try to get a job as quickly as possible. Many refugees’ familieslike many American families find that both husband and wife must work. Lack of English language skill will not prevent you from getting a job, but it may limit the kind of job you can get when you first arrive. Changing jobs is common as English language and job skills improve. Many new arrivals study part-time to improve their English language and job skills while they work. Resettlement agencies can help identify appropriate programs.

Successful resettlement depends on a refugee’s ability and willingness to adapt to the new environment. Cooperation with the resettlement agency can be key to a successful transition. Be realistic, but be optimistic. More than two million refugees have resettled in the U.S. in the past two decades. The vast majority have made the transition to life in the U.S. and have become valued members of American society. Others have benefited from the refuge offered by the U.S. until conditions in their homelands changed and they were able to return to their homes.

Because the United States is so diverse, generalizing about what to expect is difficult. You may have heard stories from friends or relatives who have recently resettled in the United States. Remember that every resettled refugee has a different experience. Seek information from a variety of sources.

Resettlement is not a decision to be made lightly. It may mean that you cannot return to your home country for many years. It may result in permanent separation from friends and relatives. But, it may also be the beginning of a new life and new opportunities.


There are numerous immigration laws that could result in the denial of this visa if not properly prepared.  If the petition is put together correctly and professionally by a qualified immigration law firm, the chances of approval is greatly increased.