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Seeking Refugee Status in the United States

Each year thousands of people all over the world are displaced by conflict, environmental disaster, disease and other tragedies. As part of its humanitarian efforts, the US government allows a set number of refugees to move to the US, known as resettlement. Some of these refugees may eventually return to their home countries, once conditions stabilize and it is safe to return. Others prefer to remain in the US and apply for permanent resident status.

In order to be considered for refugee status, applicants must:

  • Meet the US definition of a refugee
  • Meet the general eligibility standards to enter the US

Under US law, a refugee is one "who is unable or unwilling to return to and avail himself or herself of the protection of his or her home country or, if stateless, country of last habitual residence because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

Refugees cannot have been "firmly resettled" in another country at the time they apply for resettlement in the US. Firmly resettled means that the refugee has entered another country and received an offer to remain there as a permanent resident, citizen or other type of permanent resettlement.

By definition, refugees are outside of the US when they apply for status. (Those who meet the definition of a refugee and are located in the United States may be eligible to apply for asylum protection). In order to be considered for resettlement in the US, refugees need to contact an officer at the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) or an officer of another nongovernmental organization (NGO) offering relief to refugees. If contact with neither of these types of organizations is available, refugees may contact the nearest US embassy or consulate. An officer from one of these groups will speak with the refugee, ask about his or her circumstances and ascertain whether he or she is eligible for resettlement.

If the refugee is found to be eligible, the next step is to submit an application with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS has field offices around the world to assist in this process. After reviewing the application, a USCIS officer will meet with the refugee applicant in person to learn more about him or her and verify that the applicant meets the definition of a refugee and all of the other requirements to enter the US. If the USCIS approves of the application, the US Department of State, with the aid of other organizations within the US, will handle the final resettlement for the refugee.

Those seeking resettlement in the US may apply for derivative refugee status for their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. The principal refugee applicant may include these family members in his or her original application for resettlement. Should the application be approved, the family will be able to travel together to the US. Conversely, a refugee who has been resettled in the US also may file to have these family members join him or her. In order to qualify, the refugee must apply for derivative status for the eligible family members within two years of entering the US.

For more information on refugee status, resettlement in the US and filing for derivative status for family members, contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney in your area.

Getting Ready To Apply for a Visa

To read and print out a copy of the checklist, please follow the link below.

Getting Ready to Apply for a Visa

You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader here.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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