Planning for Refugees’ Arrival in the United States
The Department of State works with nine domestic resettlement agencies that have proven knowledge and resources to resettle refugees. Every week, representatives of each of these nine agencies meet to review the biographic information and other case records sent by the RSCs to determine where a refugee will be resettled in the United States. During this meeting, the resettlement agencies match the particular needs of each incoming refugee with the specific resources available. If a refugee has relatives in the United States, he or she is likely to be resettled near or with them. Otherwise, the resettlement agency that agrees to “sponsor” the case decides on the best match between a community’s resources and the refugee’s needs.
The information about the sponsoring agency is communicated back to the originating RSC, which then works with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to transport the refugee to his or her new home. The cost of refugee transportation is provided as a loan, which refugees are required to begin repaying after they are established in the United States.
Once in the United States
The Department of State has cooperative agreements with nine domestic resettlement agencies to resettle refugees. While some of the agencies have religious affiliations, they are not allowed to proselytize. The standard cooperative agreement between the Department of State and each of the domestic resettlement agencies specifies the services that the agency must provide to each refugee. All together, the nine domestic resettlement agencies have about 350 affiliates throughout the United States. Each agency headquarters maintains contact with the affiliates to monitor the resources (e.g., interpreters who speak various languages, the size and special features of available housing, the availability of schools with special services, medical care, English classes, counseling, etc.) that each affiliate’s community can offer.
As the cooperative agreement requires, all refugees are met at the airport upon arrival in the United States by someone from the sponsoring resettlement affiliate and/or a family member or friend. They are taken to their apartment, which has basic furnishings, appliances, climate-appropriate clothing and some of the food typical of the refugee’s culture. Shortly after arrival, refugees are helped to start their lives in the United States. This includes applying for a Social Security card, registering children in school, learning how to access shopping facilities, arranging medical appointments and connecting with needed social or language services.
The Department of State’s Reception and Placement program provides assistance for refugees to settle in the United States. It supplies resettlement agencies a one-time sum of $1,875 per refugee to defray a refugee’s costs during the first few months. Most of these funds go toward the refugees’ rent, furniture, food, and clothing, as well as to pay the costs of agency staff salaries, office space and other resettlement-related expenses that are not donated or provided by volunteers.
Though the Department of State’s Reception and Placement program is limited to the first three months after arrival, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement works through the states and nongovernmental organizations to provide longer-term cash and medical assistance, as well as language and social services.
Refugees receive employment authorization and are encouraged to become employed as soon as possible. Based on years of experience, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has found that people learn English and begin to function comfortably much faster if they start work soon after arrival. Most refugees begin in entry-level jobs, even if they have high-level skills or education. With time, many if not most refugees move ahead professionally and find both success and satisfaction in the United States.
After one year, refugees are expected to apply for permanent residence (commonly referred to as a green card) and, after five years in the United States, a refugee is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.