Refugee Processing and Security Screening
This page provides information about the security screening and background checks required by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) as well as the refugee resettlement process. The USRAP is an interagency effort which includes a number of governmental and non-governmental partners both abroad and in the United States.
USRAP screening includes both biometric and biographic checks, which occur at multiple stages throughout the process, including immediately after the preliminary Resettlement Support Center (RSC) interview, before a refugee’s departure to the United States, and on arrival in the U.S. at a port of entry.
The screening of refugee applicants involves numerous biographic checks that are initiated by the RSCs and are reviewed and resolved by U.S. government agencies. These include:
DOS Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS)1
DOS initiates CLASS name checks for all refugee applicants during pre-screening by the RSC. This includes name checks on the applicant’s primary names as well as any variations used by the applicant. The checks are complete before the USCIS interview, and USCIS reviews and resolves possible matches either at headquarters or in the field at the time of the interview. USCIS includes evidence of the name check response in the case file. If there is new biographic data requiring review at any time during the adjudication process, USCIS requests another CLASS name check and places the case on hold until that response is received.
Security Advisory Opinion (SAO)2
The SAO is a DOS-initiated biographic check that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and IC partners conduct. The RSC initiates SAO biographic checks at the time of pre-screening for groups and nationalities designated by the U.S. government as requiring this higher-level check. SAO responses must be clear before USCIS completes the refugee adjudication. If new biodata is identified at any time during the adjudication process of a case requiring SAO, USCIS requests another SAO on the new information and the case is placed on hold until that response is received.
Interagency Check (IAC)
The IAC screens biographic data, including names, dates of birth, and other data points of all refugee applicants within designated age ranges. The RSC captures this information at the time of pre-screening, and USCIS provides it to IC partners, including the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). This screening procedure began in 2008 and has expanded over time to include a broader range of applicants and records. This is a recurrent check.
Before or at the time of USCIS interview, USCIS staff collects fingerprints and initiates biometric checks. The biometric checks initiated by USCIS for refugee applicants include:
FBI Fingerprint Check through Next Generation Identification
Recurring biometric record checks of criminal history and previous immigration data.
DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT – formerly known as US- VISIT)
A biometric record check of travel and immigration history for non-U.S. citizens, as well as immigration violations and law enforcement and national security concerns. Enrollment in IDENT also allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to confirm identity at the port of entry.
DOD Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS)
A biometric record check of Department of Defense (DOD) holdings collected in areas where DOD has or has had a significant military presence. DOD screening began in2007 for Iraqi applicants and incrementally expanded to all refugee nationalities by 2013. CBP’s National Targeting Center-Passenger conducts biographic vetting of all ABIS biometric matches (both derogatory and benign) against various classified and unclassified U.S. government databases.
1 CLASS is a DOS name-check database that U.S. government agencies use to access critical information for adjudicating immigration applications. CLASS contains records provided by numerous federal agencies and includes information on persons with previous visa refusals, immigration violations, criminal histories, and terrorism concerns, as well as intelligence information and child support enforcement data. In addition to containing information from DOS sources, sources for information in CLASS includes National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and Terrorism Screening Center (TSC) (terrorist watch lists), DHS/CBP’s TECS System, Interpol, DEA, HHS and FBI (extracts of the NCIC Wanted Person, Immigration Violator, Foreign Fugitive Files, VGTOF, and the Interstate Identification Index).
2 The SAO process was implemented for refugees after September 11, 2001, to provide enhanced scrutiny of certain potentially higher-risk refugee nationalities and demographics.
The USCIS refugee interview itself, though not a system check, is also a vital part of the refugee screening process. Highly trained USCIS officers conduct extensive in-person, overseas interviews with all refugee applicants on each case to elicit information about eligibility for refugee status. During the interview, the officer:
- Confirms the basic biographic data of the applicant(s);
- Verifies that the applicant(s) was/were properly given access to the USRAP;
- Determines whether the principal applicant has suffered past persecution or has a well- founded fear of future persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion in his or her home country;
- Determines whether the applicant(s) is/are admissible to the United States and have not participated in persecution of others;
- Determines whether the principal applicant has been firmly resettled in another country – the finding of which would make him or her ineligible for resettlement through the USRAP; and
- Determines whether discretion should be exercised favorably to approve the application.
The officer develops lines of questioning to elicit information regarding any involvement in terrorist activity, criminal activity, or the persecution/torture of others, and conducts a credibility assessment, consistent with the REAL ID Act, on each applicant. Before the interview, USCIS officers receive training on country-specific issues for populations they interview, including briefings from outside experts from the intelligence, policy, and academic communities.
The Controlled Application Review and Resolution Process (known as CARRP) is a USCIS- wide process for handling cases with national security concerns. In general, a national security concern exists when a person or organization has been determined to have a link to past, current, or planned involvement in an activity or organization involved in terrorism, espionage, sabotage, or the illegal transfer of goods, technology, or sensitive information. USCIS trains officers to identify national security concerns in refugee applications and refer those with national security concerns for specific handling in accordance with USCIS policy and procedures.
The USCIS Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate (RAIO) and FDNS work together on enhanced review of certain refugee cases. This review involves:
- Classified and unclassified research
- Screening data against publicly available social media
RAIO and FDNS synthesize this information in an assessment for the interviewing USCIS officer. It provides case-specific context, and the interviewing officer can use it to inform lines of inquiry related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.
Even if USCIS approves an applicant for refugee status and that individual possesses the required USCIS-approved Form I-590, CBP must still find that applicant admissible to the United States. CBP receives a manifest of all individuals who have an approved Form I-590 and are scheduled to travel to the United States by air. CBP receives this manifest prior to scheduled travel. CBP performs initial vetting of the individuals before they arrive and conducts additional background checks of these individuals upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry. Only upon clearing this final security check is an individual admitted to the United States as a refugee.