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Becoming a refugee in America something that many citizens of foreign countries seek. In this article we will define the term, requirements, eligibility and we will give you an answer to how to be able to work and travel through this immigration benefit.

At Lluis Law our immigration lawyers in Los Angeles can help you with the refugee process. With over 50 years of combined experience, they are experts in all types of immigration matters.

Definition of a refugee in America

According to U.S. law a refugee is a person who:

  • It is located outside the U.S.
  • It is a humanitarian concern for the United States.
  • Is able to show that he/she have been persecuted or demonstrate fear for being persecuted due to religion, race, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
  • A person that has not been definitively resettled in another country.
  • Is eligible to be admitted to the U.S.

Refugee eligibility

In U.S. refugee status, eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis through an interview with a USCIS officer. This non-confrontational interview provides information on the applicant’s application and resettlement in the United States.

During the interview, USCIS examines all relevant evidence, including testimony, to determine if the applicant:

  • Meets the definition of refugee.
  • Qualifies under a designated processing priority.
  • It is not firmly established in a third country.
  • It is otherwise admissible under U.S. law.

For eligibility USCIS evaluates the credibility of the person and takes into account the conditions in the country of origin. They also perform security checks.

The process for becoming a refugee in America

  • The applicant for refuge in the United States must receive a reference to qualify for the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Thus, it can be evaluated through the refugee consideration process.
  • Upon receiving a referral, you will receive help in completing the application. 
  • A USCIS official will interview you abroad to determine if you are eligible.
  • Your application may include a spouse, your unmarried children under the age of 21 and, in limited circumstances, other family members. The spouse can be of the same sex as long as you are legally married.

Note: There is no fee to apply for refuge in the United States. The information provided will not be shared with your country of origin.

United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)

Each year, and following the immigration law, executive branch officers must do the following:

  • Assess the refugee situation or the refugee emergency situation.
  • Analyze the causes to believe that the proposed admission of refugees is justified by humanitarian concern, grave humanitarian concern or for reasons of benefit to the national interest.
  • Make projections about the extent of possible U.S. involvement in refugee resettlement.
refugee with US flag

After consultation with Congress and cabinet representatives, a resolution is drafted for the President’s signature. The presidential resolution will establish the general levels of regional admissions and placements for refugees for the next fiscal year.

During the new fiscal year, refugees will not be admitted until the presidential resolution has been signed.

Processing priorities in 2023

Processing priorities are established annually and determine the degree of humanitarian concern in the U.S.A. of refugees worldwide. Meeting that priority gives you the option to get an interview with a USCIS officer, but it is not synonymous of acceptance.

Currently, the priorities are:

  • First priority: Cases identified and referred to UNHCR, a U.S. NGO or embassy.
  • Second Priority: Groups of Special Humanitarian Interest that have been identified by the U.S. refugee program.
  • Priority Three: Individual cases of designated nationalities who have access for the purpose of reunification with family members already in the U.S.

First priority

  • They are cases of refugees of any nationality with urgent protection needs. 
  • Resettlement appears to be the most appropriate durable solution.
  • These cases are identified and referred to the USRAP by the United States Embassy, ​​UNHCR, or an NGO.

Second priority

  • They are specific groups identified by U.S. law.
  • The open access model allows people to access the program directly based on certain criteria.
  • CSRs under the direction of PRM make a preliminary determination on applicants’ access rating and their interview with DHS.
  • When accessing USRAP processing steps are the same as the ones for the first priority. This includes individual pre-screening and DHS interviews, medical and security checks.

Second priority open access within your country of origin:

  • Some members of religious minority groups in the Baltic countries and Eurasia : Evangelical Christians, Jews, and Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox religious adherents identified in the Lautenberg Amendment with close family in the USA. Based on the annual renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment, these individuals are considered under a reduced standard of evidence to establish a well-founded fear of persecution.
  • Some Iraqis associated with the United States: Contractors, US government funded recipients, or US government employees.

Second priority open access outside your home country:

  • Some members of religious minority groups in Iran: Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and Mandeans. These are considered under a reduced evidence standard to establish a well-founded fear of persecution following the annual renewal of the Lautenberg Amendment.
  • Some Iraqis associated with the United States: US government employees. US, contractors, recipients funded by the US government. USA, US media USA, NGO members working in Iraq and some relatives of these employees

Third priority

This category grants access to members of designated nationalities who have immediate family members in the US who were granted asylum or entered as refugees. Even when they obtained legal permanent resident status or are naturalized as U.S. citizens.

Parents, spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 21 of US-based refugees or asylum beneficiaries can participate here. In 2023 the processing of the third category is available to individuals of the following nationalities:

  • Afghanistan.
  • Burundi.
  • Central African Republic.
  • Cuba.
  • Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Eritrea.
  • Ethiopia.
  • Iran.
  • Iraq.
  • Mali.
  • Somalia.
  • South Sudan.
  • Sudan.
  • Syria.
international refugees

Entry to the U.S.A.

If you obtain status and are approved to enter the United States as a refugee, the following will occur:

  • You will have a medical exam;
  • You will get a cultural orientation offer;
  • Help with your travel plans;
  • A loan for your trip.
  • Upon arrival you will be eligible for financial and medical aid.

Note: You can read more about the benefits on the website of the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Relocation.

Bringing your family to the USA

Within 2 years of admission, the refugee may file Form I-730 with DHS for each eligible family member. These are:

  • Spouse.
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21.

Eligibility criteria 

  • The petitioner must be the primary refugee who obtained the status directly.
  • Entered the U.S. as a refugee in the last 2 years.
  • The family relationship had to exist before his/her transfer to the U.S.A. as a refugee. 
  • You remain a refugee or have become a permanent resident.

Note: If you are already a naturalized U.S. citizen, you cannot apply for your family to obtain refugee status, but you can help your family to emigrate. Please review the articles “How to become a US Citizenship” and “Family based immigration.”

Note: For information on applying for a child, check this link. For the spouse this other.

People who gain access to USRAP through Form I-730 are interviewed by consular officials from the Department of State or DHS. The objective is to examine any restrictions applicable to admissibility and status.

Note: Unlike the third priority process, Form I-730 does not allow the relative in the U.S. to petition parents.

Can I work if I become a refugee in America?

Yes, as a refugee you can work from the moment you arrive in the USA. With your admission you will receive Form I-94 with an admission stamp and your employment authorization will be processed through I-765 to receive your EAD.

While waiting for your employment authorization, you can submit I-94 as proof of work permit in the USA.

Traveling abroad

If you have refuge status in the United States and want to travel abroad, you must obtain a refugee travel document to be able to return to the United States. If you do not obtain this document before your departure, you may not be able to enter it again.

If you return to the country from which you fled, you will have to explain how you were able to return safely.

Apply for permanent residence as a refugee

When you are admitted as a refugee in America you must apply for a Green Card one year after coming to the USA. To do this you must file Form I-485. This is free of charge for refugees, nor should you pay biometric data fees.

In our article ” how to obtain the Green Card” you have extensive information about the process.

Lawyers that assist in the process of obtaining refugee status in America

At Lluis Law, our lawyers have been serving immigrants and helping with all kinds of procedures for more than 40 years. If you need to carry out a refuge process in the United States or have any questions about it, call us.

We are Latino lawyers who speak english and spanish. Legal issues are complex and require experienced lawyers with deep knowledge of the law. Any error may result in the denial of your request. Don’t let that happen. Contact us today.