Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is an alien who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  Individuals who meet this definition may be considered for either refugee status under Section 207 of the INA if they are outside the United States, or asylum status under Section 208 of the INA, if they are already in the United States.

Since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, which incorporated this definition of refugee into the INA, the United States has admitted more than 3 million refugees and granted asylum status to over 721,0000 individuals.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)

Individuals outside the United States seeking admission as a refugee under Section 207 of the INA are processed through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), which is managed by the Department of State in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Those admitted as refugees are eligible for U.S. government-funded resettlement assistance.

The first step for most people seeking refugee status is to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which they have fled.  UNHCR determines if an individual qualifies as a refugee and, if so, works toward the best possible durable solution:  safe return to the home country, local integration, or permanent resettlement in a third country.

Annual Report on Proposed Refugee Admissions

Every year, the President sends a report to the Congress on the proposed number of refugees to be admitted in the next Fiscal Year, along with other information.  The current and previous reports to Congress are available on our Documents for Congress page.

Data on Refugee Admissions to the United States

The Refugee Processing Center’s WRAPSnet offers statistical data on refugee admissions to the United States, including information about refugees’ countries of origin and U.S. state of initial resettlement.

Reception and Placement Assistance for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Holders

Although Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders are not refugees, certain Iraqi and Afghan SIV holders may access USRAP’s Reception and Placement program for assistance starting their lives in the United States.  Information is available on the Refugee Processing Center website.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future