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U.S. Refugee Admissions Program:  Overseas Application and Case Processing

When a U.S. Embassy, UNHCR, specially trained nongovernmental organization (NGO), or a private sponsor refers a refugee applicant to the United States for resettlement, the case is first received and processed by a Resettlement Support Center (RSC).  The Department of State currently funds and manages eight RSCs around the world that are operated by NGOs or international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM).


RSCs collect biometric, biographic, and other information from the applicants to prepare cases for security screening, interview, and adjudication by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  .  The Secretary of Homeland Security has delegated to USCIS the authority to determine eligibility for refugee status under U.S. law.  The decision whether and how many refugees to admit to the United States each year is determined based on the President’s discretion – there is no minimum or fixed maximum number of refugees that can be admitted under U.S. law – and is set through the Presidential Determination process. USCIS officers review the information that the RSC has collected and the results of security screening processes and conduct an interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for classification as a refugee.

Post-Adjudication Processing

If an applicant is conditionally approved for resettlement by USCIS, or in certain cases prior to receiving a decision from USCIS, RSC staff guide the refugee applicant through post-adjudication steps, including a health screening to identify medical needs and address any health concerns before individuals enter the United States. The RSC also obtains a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that receives funding from PRM for Reception and Placement (R&P) assistance.  Refugees resettled through the Welcome Corps  program will similarly receive an assurance from a private sponsorship group, which is managed by a PRM-funded partner to provide R&P-like initial resettlement services.  Once all required steps are completed, the RSC refers the case to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to arrange transportation to the United States.

Cultural Orientation

The Department of State strives to ensure that refugees admitted to the United States are prepared for the changes they will experience by providing cultural orientation programs prior to departure.  The Department of State funds one- to five-day pre-departure orientation classes for eligible refugees at sites throughout the world.  Comprehensive cultural orientation resources have been developed to assist refugees’ transition to life in the US., including a Settle-In US website , Facebook page, and mobile app.  Cultural orientation programming continues once refugees arrive in the United States.


The Department of State funds the international transportation of refugees resettled in the United States through a program administered by IOM.  The transportation is provided to refugees in the form of a no-interest loan.  Refugees are responsible for repaying these loans over time through their R&P providers, beginning six months after their arrival.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future