About US Refugees Admissions Program (USRAP)

US Refugee Resettlement Program Overview

The United States Refugee Act of 1980 incorporates the United Nations definition of “refugee” and standardizes resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the U.S. The Refugee Act provides legal basis for the current U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and is administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) of the Department of State in conjunction with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and offices in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Determining Refugee Resettlement Arrivals

The President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. The total limit is broken down for each sending region of the world. Over the last 11 years, admission ceilings have ranged between 70,000 and 80,000. The numerical ceiling for refugee admissions for Federal Fiscal Year 2015 is 85,000.

To determine the refugee populations and amounts to grant admission, BPRM conducts public consultations where stakeholders provide input into the U.S. refugee admission process. While this process is taking place, local Resettlement Agencies are examining local capacities, taking into consideration many factors including but not limited to economic conditions, availability of English as Second Language, public transportation, exiting immigrant groups and language interpretation capacity. The Resettlement Agencies submit their proposed capacity to BPRM in the form of resettlement abstracts. State Refugee Coordinators review all abstracts in their respective states and have an opportunity to provide feedback; however, the ultimate approval or disapproval of a particular abstract rests with BPRM.

The primary relationship governing resettlement agencies’ activities are outlined and governed by their cooperative agreement, or contract, with the Department of State. MORA administers the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s entitlement funds, passing funds through to resettlement agencies providing social services to eligible refugees.

Refugee Processing

If approved, a refugee and his/her family undergo medical exams, which are standard for all U.S. applicants. Once all security and health checks are complete, refugees are scheduled for travel to the United States.

Security Protocols
Security clearance for individuals seeking admission to the U.S. through the resettlement program involves the following steps:

  • STEP 1: With information collected during intake interviews, a number of security checks are conducted. The State Department runs the names of all refugees referred to the United States for resettlement through a standard CLASS (Consular Lookout and Support System) name check. In addition, enhanced interagency security checks were phased in beginning in 2008 and applied to all refugee applicants.
  • STEP 2: Certain refugees undergo an additional security review called a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO). These cases require a positive SAO clearance from a number of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies in order to continue the resettlement process.
  • STEP 3: Refugees who meet the minimum age requirement have their fingerprints and photograph taken. Fingerprints are then checked against various U.S. government databases and any matches are reviewed by DHS.
  • STEP 4: All refugee applicants are interviewed face-to- face by an officer from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Based on the information in the refugee’s case file and interview, the DHS officer will determine if the individual qualifies as a refugee and is admissible under U.S. law.
  • STEP 5: DHS Approval: If the USCIS officer finds that the individual qualifies as a refugee and meets other U.S. admission criteria, the officer will conditionally approve the refugee’s application for resettlement and submit it to the U.S. Department of State for final processing.
  • STEP 6: After arrival in the U.S., refugees are required to notify DHS of any changes in their residency within 10 days of moving. This notification is required for the first five years a refugee is in the U.S.

What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

Refugees are forced to flee their homes and seek safety in another country, often times without warning. Immigrants make a conscious decision to leave their countries to seek a better life elsewhere. While immigrants may return to their home country, refugees often cannot.

How many refugees and displaced persons are there, and who makes up the majority of the refugee population?

Right now there are nearly 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world, according to a June 2015 report by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. Just over half were uprooted by conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Approximately 321,000 refugees were resettled to the United States between 2011 and 2015.

What are the options for resettlement?

Most refugees and displaced persons return to their communities when peace and stability return to their country. When conditions in countries of origin remain unstable or there is a danger of persecution upon repatriation, some refugees are able to stay in a refugee settlement in another country. Resettlement in a third country, such as the United States, is the last option, and is available to only a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees.

How many refugees have the opportunity to resettle?

Very few refugees are considered for resettlement. There are three internationally accepted durable solutions for refugees:

  • Voluntary repatriation. Refugees return to their former country of nationality when conditions prevail that allow for a safe return
  • Local integration. Local settlement and integration of refugees in their country of first asylum upon receiving agreement from the host country
  • Resettlement. Most frequently used for refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health or human rights are at risk in the country from where they have sought refuge. Resettlement to a third country becomes the primary objective or priority when there is no other way to guarantee the legal or physical security of the refugee.

How does the U.S. determine if a refugee is eligible for resettlement?

Applicants for refugee admission to the U.S. must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Meet the definition of a “refugee” as determined by the U.S. government
  • Are determined by the President to be of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.
  • Be otherwise admissible under U.S. law
  • Not be firmly resettled in any foreign country
  • Pass security and medical clearance

Although a refugee may meet the above criteria, the existence of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program does not create any entitlement for that person to be admitted to the U.S.

How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement?

The United States accepts a limited number of refugees each year. The President, in consultation with Congress, determines the authorized target for refugee admissions through a Presidential Determination. (Refer to the “Determining Refugee Resettlement Arrivals” section on page 1).