Chapter 1 - Purpose and Background
USCIS seeks to:
Resolve the refugee’s status after admission by ultimately determining whether the refugee is admissible to the United States as an immigrant; and
Provide qualified refugees a pathway to permanent residence as persons of special humanitarian concern to the United States.
Before the Refugee Act of 1980, refugee admission policy was reactive and piecemeal as it grew in response to humanitarian crises and ethnic conflicts. The result was an assortment of laws and regulations that classified persons as refugees, conditional entrants, parolees, pre-parolees, escapees, evacuees, or asylum grantees. In many cases, the long-term resolution of these classifications was unclear. The Refugee Act of 1980 addressed these issues by providing a systematic procedure for the admission and permanent resettlement of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States.
Prior to the passage of the Refugee Act, a refugee in the United States had to wait two years to apply for adjustment of status. The refugee also had to show that he or she had fled (or stayed away from) any communist-dominated country or country within the Middle East and was unwilling or unable to return due to fear of persecution.
Although the refugee was not required to show that he or she continued to meet the definition of a refugee, he or she adjusted status under section 245 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), meaning that all of the inadmissibility grounds and bars to adjustment applied. The Refugee Act established, among other things, a uniform basis for permanent resettlement by amending the INA with the creation of section 209.
Refugees are now required to apply to adjust status one year after being admitted as a refugee in order for USCIS to determine their admissibility to the United States as an immigrant. Recognizing the unique and tenuous position of this population, Congress determined that certain grounds of inadmissibility would not apply at time of adjustment, while allowing for the possible waiver of other grounds.
Pub. L. 96-212 (PDF) – Refugee Act of 1980
INA 101(a)(42) – Definition of “refugee”