Refugee Processing and Security Screening
This Web 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. Refugee applicants have the highest level of background and security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.
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Refugee applicants are subject to intensive biographic and biometric security checks. Through close coordination with the federal law enforcement and intelligence communities, these checks are continually reviewed and enhanced to address specific populations that may pose particular threats.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies and refers many refugees to the USRAP for resettlement consideration. UNHCR also provides important information about the worldwide refugee situation.
The Department of State (State) coordinates and manages the USRAP. Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs) work with State to carry out administrative and processing functions, such as file preparation, data collection, and out-processing activities during the refugee admissions process.
USCIS conducts interviews with applicants to determine their eligibility for refugee status, including whether they are credible, meet the refugee definition, and are otherwise admissible to the United States under U.S. law.
USRAP screening is a shared responsibility. It includes both biometric and biographic checks at multiple stages during the process, including immediately before a refugee’s departure to the United States and upon his or her arrival in the United States.
The screening of refugee applicants involves numerous biographic checks that are initiated by the RSCs and reviewed and/or resolved by USCIS. These include:
- The Department of State’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS)
State initiates CLASS name checks for all refugee applicants when they are being prescreened by an RSC. Name checks are conducted on the applicant’s primary names as well as any variations used by the applicant. Responses are received before the USCIS interview, and possible matches are reviewed and adjudicated by USCIS headquarters. Evidence of the response is included in the case file. If a new name or variation is identified at the interview, USCIS requests another CLASS name check on the new name and places the case on hold until that response is received.
CLASS is owned by State. The name-check database provides access to critical information for adjudicating immigration applications. The system contains records provided by numerous agencies and includes information on individuals who have been denied visas, immigration violations, criminal histories, and terrorism concerns, as well as intelligence information and child support enforcement data.
In addition to containing information from State sources, CLASS also includes information from:
- National Counterterrorism Center/Terrorist Screening Center (terrorist watch lists),
- Drug Enforcement Administration,
- Health and Human Services, and
- FBI (extracts of the National Crime Information Center’s Wanted Persons File, Immigration Violator File, Foreign Fugitive File, Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (and the Interstate Identification Index)).
- Security Advisory Opinion (SAO)
State initiates SAO name checks for certain refugee applicants when they are being prescreened by an RSC. The SAO biographic check is conducted by the FBI and intelligence community partners. SAOs are conducted for an applicant who is a member of a group or nationality that the U.S. government has designated as requiring this higher level check. SAOs are processed, and a response must be received before finalizing the decision. If there is a new name or variation identified at the interview, USCIS requests another SAO for the new name and places the case on hold until that response is received.
The SAO process was implemented after Sept. 11, 2001, to provide an additional security mechanism to screen individuals in certain higher-risk categories who are seeking to enter the United States through a variety of means, including refugee applicants.
- Interagency Check (IAC)
The IAC screens biographic data, including names, dates of birth, and other additional data of all refugee applicants within designated age ranges. This information is captured at the time the applicant is prescreened and is provided to intelligence community partners. This screening procedure began in 2008 and has expanded over time to include a broader range of applicants and records. These checks occur throughout the process.
At the time of USCIS interview, USCIS staff collects fingerprints and begins biometric checks. These checks include:
- FBI Fingerprint Check through Next Generation Identification (NGI)
Recurring biometric record checks pertaining to criminal history and previous immigration data.
- DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT - f/n/a US-VISIT)
A biometric record check related to travel and immigration history 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 the applicant’s identity at U.S. ports of entry.
- DOD Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA)’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS)
A biometric record check of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) records collected in areas of conflict (predominantly Iraq and Afghanistan). DOD screening began in 2007 for Iraqi applicants and has now been expanded to all nationalities. CBP’s National Targeting Center-Passenger (NTC-P) conducts biographic vetting of all ABIS biometric matches against various classified and unclassified U.S. government databases.
The USCIS refugee interview is an important part of the refugee screening process. Highly trained USCIS officers conduct extensive interviews with each refugee applicant to learn more about the applicant's claim for refugee status and admissibility. These officers have undergone specialized and extensive training on:
- Refugee law,
- Grounds of inadmissibility,
- Fraud detection and prevention,
- Security protocols,
- Interviewing techniques,
- Credibility analysis, and
- Country conditions research.
Before deploying overseas, officers also receive additional training on the specific population that they will be interviewing, detailed country of origin information, and updates on any fraud trends or security issues that have been identified.
Officers conducting interviews of Syrian applicants undergo an expanded 1-week training focusing on Syria-specific topics, including a classified intelligence briefing. During the interview, the officer develops lines of questioning to obtain information on whether the applicant has been involved in terrorist activity, criminal activity, or the persecution/torture of others. The officer will also conduct a credibility assessment on each applicant
During the process of adjudicating any USCIS benefit, if any national security concerns are raised, either based on security and background checks or personal interviews or testimony, USCIS conducts an additional review through the internal CARRP process. CARRP is an internal USCIS process that a case can go through to ensure that immigration benefits or services are not granted to individuals who pose a threat to national security and/or public safety, or who seek to defraud our immigration system.
USCIS’ Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate and Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) work together to provide enhanced review of certain Syrian cases. This review involves FDNS providing intelligence-driven support to refugee adjudicators, including identifying threats and suggesting topics for questioning. FDNS also monitors terrorist watch lists and disseminates intelligence information reports on any applicants who are determined to present a national security threat.
CBP inspects all applicants who are approved for refugee resettlement to the United States to determine their admissibility before they are admitted as refugees. CBP receives a manifest of all approved individuals who have been booked for travel to the United States. CBP receives this manifest 8 days before the scheduled travel. CBP begins vetting the individuals before they arrive at a U.S. airport and then conducts an inspection and additional background checks of these individuals upon their arrival at a U.S. airport.