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Resettlement

Refugees in America Crisis Watch

The United States has a long tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing persecution and war. However, the Trump Administration, citing unfounded security concerns, has moved to suspend the refugee resettlement program for 120 days and slash refugee arrivals in 2017 by more than half.

What's Happening

  • A federal court in Hawaii has indefinitely blocked the implementation of the Trump administration's revised executive order on entry into the U.S.. The order would have suspended the refugee resettlement program for 120 days.

  • The first version of the order, which Trump signed in his first week in office, resulted in chaos at airports worldwide. Regarded as tantamount to a "Muslim ban," it was dropped in the face of multiple legal roadblocks.

  • The U.S. resettlement program is already regarded as the world’s most successful and secure. If implemented, the revised order would further harm refugees—including 60,000 already vetted.

Read the IRC's statement

Overview

Refugees are men, women and children fleeing war, persecution and political upheaval who have crossed borders to seek safety in another country. Most eventually go home when it’s safe, some stay in temporary refugee settlements, and a tiny fraction resettle in a third country, such as the U.S.

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How many refugees are resettled in the U.S., and who decides?

Refugee status is determined by the United Nations. Most refugees who enter the U.S. refugee admissions program are identified and referred for resettlement in the U.S. by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), a U.S. embassy or an approved humanitarian aid organization.
 
The U.S. is just one of 28 resettlement countries. Out of the nearly 20 million refugees in the world, less than 1 percent are considered for resettlement worldwide. 

The U.S. 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. The U.S. has pledged to resettle 110,000 refugees in 2017.

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

  • The definition of a "refugee" as determined by U.S. government officials.
  • Be among those refugees 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.

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 are refugees vetted?

The hardest way to come to the U.S. is as a refugee.

Refugees are vetted more intensively than any other group seeking to enter the U.S. All those seeking to come here must first be registered by the United Nations refugee agency, which identifies the families most in need. The U.S. then hand-selects every person who is admitted.

Refugee vetting process can take up to 36 months and is led by led by U.S. government authorities, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and multiple security agencies.

 

The U.S. resettlement program gives priority to refugees, usually vulnerable families, who have been targeted by violence. The U.S. does not recognize as refugees people who have committed violations of humanitarian and human rights law.

Security screenings are intense and led by U.S. government authorities, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of
Defense, and multiple security agencies. The process typically takes up to 36 months and is followed by further security checks after refugees arrive in the States.

How does the resettlement process work?

The Resettlement Support Center (RSC), run by agencies like the IRC, through cooperative agreements with the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, help refugees and their families prepare their cases to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), compiling personal data and background information for security clearance.

Once refugees have been cleared for resettlement, the U.S. government works with the IRC and eight other national resettlement agencies to help them restart their lives in America.

Refugees may be placed in a city where they have relatives or friends, or where there’s an established community that shares their language or culture. Other considerations include the cost of living and a community’s ability to provide medical services. However, as legal U.S. residents, refugees may live in any state they choose.

Preparation for travel

Before refugees leave the countries where they temporarily reside, they sign promissory notes agreeing to reimburse the U.S. government for travel costs. They also attend a class to learn about what to expect when they arrive in their new country, with briefings on American culture, U.S. laws, health benefits and other critical information. Officials also conduct a final screening and additional security checks before departure.

Arrival in the U.S.

Refugees are usually greeted and welcomed at the airport by case workers from resettlement agencies like the IRC to ensure their transition is as comfortable as possible. Agencies are responsible for finding a suitable, affordable home for refugee families, something many of these refugees have gone without for years. Families also receive basic furnishings, food and other immediate assistance.

Getting on their feet

For the first 90 days, resettlement agencies work with state and local governments and community organizations to help new arrivals settle into their communities.

The Ngalamulume siblings pose for a photo in the snow in the front yard of their home in Boise.
The Ngalamulume siblings in front of their home in Boise, Idaho. Their parents fled to Zambia from war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s and were resettled in the United States in 2008. "Our parents sacrificed a lot just to get us here," says George Ngalamulume. Photo: Jonathan McBride/IRC
  • Refugees are introduced to their local health care system. Although they have had through check-ups before entering the U.S., they receive additional examinations by medical professionals in their new communities.
  • Learning English is an essential step to becoming self-sufficient. Agencies help assist refugees to enroll English courses at their local offices or help families find classes nearby.
  • Newly arrived refugees have endured years of trauma and hardship; that emotional burden does not lift once they’re in the U.S. Agencies, service providers and local communities work together to help survivors of violence and human trafficking receive the support and care they need in order to recover.
  • Parents are informed about schooling options and caseworkers help to enroll children in school. Aid agencies help ensure each child has a backpack, notebooks and other supplies for their first day.
  • Refugees receive stipends to cover their first three months in the U.S., but they are encouraged to find work quickly—and most do. Agencies reach out to local employers, some run by former refugees or other immigrants, to find job opportunities for them. Refugees can also receive support in putting together their resume and preparing for job interviews.

Once they acclimate to their new environment, refugees often thrive and contribute to their communities, building their careers, purchasing homes, building businesses, gaining citizenship.

Learn more about how the refugee vetting and resettlement process works

How does the IRC support resettled refugees?

The IRC has 29 offices across the United States that support newly arrived refugees by providing immediate aid, including food, housing and medical attention. 

Each resettlement office serves as a free, one-stop center for refugees’ needs during their pivotal first months in the U.S. Through a network of staff members and volunteers, the IRC helps refugees learn about life and customs in America, secure jobs, learn English, and become citizens. We provide most of the basic things they need to restart their lives here and we help them overcome cultural barriers so that their adjustment is as easy as possible.

Syrian refugees in Dallas

Through community gardening, nutrition education and small-business farming, the IRC's New Roots program gives hundreds of refugee farmers the tools and training they need to grow healthy and affordable food and become self-sufficient.

Refugees are encouraged to find work quickly and stand on their own feet — and most do. Refugees even pay back the loans they take for their plane tickets here.

What can I do to help resettled refugees?

Everyone can help refugees by welcoming them as new and valuable members of American society.

You can help refugees by volunteering at a local resettlement agency; becoming an English tutor; a tour guide; a mentor to a family; donating money, furniture and household items; teaching other people about refugees; urging your elected officials to support refugee resettlement; and employing or encouraging local businesses to employ refugees.

Ways to help right now:

Learn about more ways to help refugees in the U.S.

The IRC's impact

In 2016, the International Rescue Committee helped:

13,400

newly arrived refugees who have been offered sanctuary by the United States to resettle in their new communities.

The United States has a long tradition of offering refuge to those fleeing persecution and war.

See where we work in the U.S.
13,000

refugees from East Asia to resettle in the U.S. through the Resettlement Support Center in Thailand and Malaysia.

We help refugees prepare paperwork, facilitate interviews with U.S government officials, and, once they have been accepted for resettlement, schedule medical screening and take cultural orientation classes.

Learn more
26 million

people worldwide to benefit from IRC humanitarian programs and those of our partners.

The IRC offers high-quality, low-cost immigration legal services and citizenship assistance in 22 cities across the U.S.

Learn more about immigration

News and features

Rescue stories

  • “There are moments, especially now, which remind me that I’m a refugee. I want people to see that there's more to a person than where they are from."
    Growing up in exile, Mulu Bahre found his place in the world when he became an American citizen. He is now eager to give back to the country that accepted him and his family.
  • I’m not taking a job, I’m giving a job. I give another chance to people."
    Iraqi chef and Boise restaurant owner Salam Bunyan strongly believes refugees bring unique perspectives and skills to their new countries—and hopes Americans see them as an asset rather than a burden.