U.S. Refugee Admissions Program: Overseas Application and Case Processing
When the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, or a specially trained nongovernmental organization 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 seven RSCs around the world operated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations, or U.S. embassy contractors.
Certain refugee applicants can start the application process with the RSC without a referral from UNHCR or other entity. This includes close relatives of asylees and refugees already in the United States and applicants who belong to specific groups identified in statute or by the Department of State as eligible for direct access to the program
RSCs collect 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 the INA. Refugee determinations under the INA are entirely discretionary. USCIS officers review the information that the RSC has collected and the results of security screening processes and conduct an in-person interview with each refugee applicant before deciding whether to approve him or her for classification as a refugee.
If an applicant is conditionally approved for resettlement by USCIS, RSC staff guide the refugee applicant through post-adjudication steps, including a health screening to identify medical needs and to ensure that those with a contagious disease do not 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. Once all required steps are completed, the RSC refers the case to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for transportation to 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 cost of 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.
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. Every refugee family is offered a copy of “Welcome to the United States,” a book developed with contributions from refugee resettlement workers, resettled refugees, and government officials that provides accurate information about initial resettlement. In addition, the Department of State funds one- to five-day pre-departure orientation classes for eligible refugees at sites throughout the world. Refugees may also access cultural orientation information through a website that is translated into seven languages and provides information in numerous modes to meet all literacy levels, as well as a new mobile application.