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Refugees

Under United States law, a refugee is someone who:

  • Is located outside of the United States
  • Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States
  • Demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
    Is not firmly resettled in another country
  • Is admissible to the United States

A refugee does not include anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

For the legal definition of refugee, see section 101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The Refugee Process

You must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee. For more information on the referral criteria, see the USRAP Consultations and Worldwide Processing Priorities page. 

If you receive a referral, you will receive help filling out your application and then be interviewed abroad by a USCIS officer who will determine whether you are eligible for refugee resettlement. For more information about eligibility, see our Refugee Eligibility Determination page.

Your case may include your spouse, child (unmarried and under 21years of age), and in some limited circumstances, other family members..  You may include a same-sex spouse in your application provided that you and your spouse are legally married.  As a general matter, USCIS looks to the law of the place where the marriage took place when determining whether it is valid for immigration law purposes. Same-sex partners who are not married but who are qualified  to access the U.S. Refugee Admissions under one of the three designated worldwide processing priorities may have their cases cross-referenced  so that they can be interviewed at the same time and, if approved by USCIS, resettled in the same geographic area in the United States. 

There is no fee to apply for refugee status. The information you provide will not be shared with your home country.

For more information about USRAP and the referral process, see our USRAP Consultations and Worldwide Processing Priorities page.

Coming to the United States

If you are approved as a refugee, you will receive a medical exam, a cultural orientation, help with your travel plans, and a loan for your travel to the United States. After you arrive, you will be eligible for medical and cash assistance. For more information on benefits available to refugees, please see the Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement page.

Bringing Your Family to the United States

If you are a refugee in the United States and want your family members who are abroad to join you, you may file Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition, for your spouse and unmarried children under 21. You must file within two years of your arrival to the United States unless there are humanitarian reasons to excuse this deadline. For more information about bringing your family to the United States, see our Family of Refugees and Asylees page.

You may also be eligible to file an Affidavit of Relationship for your spouse, child (unmarried, under 21), or parents. The Affidavit of Relationship is the form used to reunite refugees and asylees with close relatives who are determined to be refugees but are outside the United States. The Affidavit of Relationship records information about family relationships and must be completed in order to begin the application process for relatives who may be eligible to enter the United States as refugees through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. For information on the current nationalities eligible to file, see the “U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees & Migration”.

Working in the United States

As a refugee, you may work immediately upon arrival to the United States. When you are admitted to the United States you will receive a Form I-94 containing a refugee admission stamp.  Additionally, a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, will be filed for you in order for you to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). While you are waiting for your EAD, you can present your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, to your employer as proof of your permission to work in the United States.

For more information on employment in the United States, see the  “How Do I Show My Employer That I Am Authorized to Work in the United States?” page.

Filing for a Permanent Residency (Green Card)

If you are admitted as a refugee, you must apply for a green card one year after coming to the United States. To apply for permanent residency, file the Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status. There is no fee for refugees to file the Form I-485.  In addition, refugees do not have to pay for fingerprinting/biometrics fees. 

For more information on obtaining a green card, see our Green Card for a Refugees page.

Traveling Abroad 

If you have refugee status and want to travel outside the United States, you will need to obtain a Refugee Travel Document in order to return to the United States. If you do not obtain a Refugee Travel Document in advance of departure, you may be unable to re-enter the United States. If you return to the country from which you fled, you will have to explain how you were able to return safely. For more information on obtaining permission to travel abroad, see our How Do I Get a Refugee Travel Document? information.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 04/11/2013