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The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is managed by the Department of State in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.  Those admitted as refugees are eligible for U.S. government-funded resettlement assistance.

The USRAP is a multi-step process.  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 and voluntary return to the home country, local integration, or permanent resettlement in a third country.  U.S. Embassies or qualified non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may also provide referrals to the USRAP for individuals of particular concern to the United States.

Certain individuals can begin the process without a referral. This includes close relatives of asylees and refugees already in the United States and applicants who belong to specific groups identified in U.S. law or by the Department of State as eligible for direct access to the program.

Refugee processing requires mandatory security vetting, a pre-screening interview, a refugee adjudication interview, and a medical exam. For applicants who are approved for admission to the United States, next steps include assignment to a resettlement agency in the United States, completion of case documentation, and travel arrangements.

Refugee claims from persons of any nationality can be considered for resettlement in the United States through the USRAP.  While UNHCR has historically referred most cases to the USRAP, U.S. Embassies or specially trained non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can also provide referrals to the USRAP for individuals of particular concern to the United States. These may include journalists, democracy and human rights activists, LGBTQI+ persons, stateless persons, and other individuals with particular vulnerabilities.  A U.S. Embassy may make a referral for persons still in their country of origin for exceptional cases that require protection when the Department of State and DHS concur.  In most circumstances, it will take a minimum of several months to complete all required processing steps depending on the applicant’s location and individual circumstances.

Certain family members can be considered for resettlement alongside the primary applicant.  A qualifying relationship under these referrals includes the primary applicant’s spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age.  Other individuals who are part of the primary applicant’s household and economic unit, such as adult unmarried children or a parent, may be referred together and qualify for resettlement as a related case.

USRAP Priority System

As directed under U.S. law, the USRAP determines which individuals are of “special humanitarian concern” to the United States for the purpose of refugee resettlement.  Those identified for third-country resettlement are the most vulnerable within refugee populations and include those for whom third-country resettlement is the best or only durable solution available.

Several mechanisms for accessing the USRAP exist and terminology around USRAP processing categories can be confusing. There are currently four categories, and these are referred to as “processing priorities.” Although this may suggest that one mechanism is better than another, entering the program under a certain priority does not establish precedence in the order in which cases will be processed or the likelihood of success of the claim. Cases undergo the same processing steps regardless of category

  • Priority 1:  Individual cases referred by designated entities, including UNHCR, U.S. embassies, and certain qualified NGOs, to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.
  • Priority 2:  Groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.
  • Priority 3:  Individual cases from designated nationalities granted access for purposes of reunification with family members already in the United States.
  • Priority 4:  Individual cases from all nationalities who have been referred by private sponsors in the United States, and who receive post-arrival support and services from those sponsors.

More information on these categories can be found on our Documents for Congress page linked below.

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 as defined by U.S. law, certain Iraqi and Afghan SIV holders may access the 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

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