Applying for Refugee Status

Unfortunately, people depart their nations because severe conditions make living at home extremely difficult. Refugees flee violence and persecution based upon membership in a particular social group, nationality, political opinion, race, or religion. American law acknowledges refugees’ situations and provides a path for them to begin a new life in the United States.

Process to Obtain Refugee Status

After fleeing her or his nation, a foreign national should consider contacting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”). UNHCR offices in various nations will begin the process to determine eligibility for refugee status. The UNHCR pursues permanent resettlement in America or another country after determining that the person satisfies the criteria for refugee status. UNHCR may also assist the foreign national with other options.

UNHCR refers a foreign national to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”) for refugee processing. If selected for U.S. refugee processing, a foreign national will prepare an application for review by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). An immigration officer will interview the applicant outside the United States. The foreign national will complete a medical examination. A person or organization must sponsor the applicant.     

When USCIS approves a refugee application, the approval allows Customs and Border Protection to conditionally admit the person into the U.S. as a refugee (“principal refugee”). The principal refugee must arrive in the U.S. within 4 months after USCIS approved the refugee application. After USCIS approves the principal refugee’s application, the principal refugee may request that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) grant refugee status to a spouse and unmarried child.   

Should a Foreign National with Relatives in the U.S. Apply for Refugee Status?

If a family member has U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status, that relative may begin the immigration process for a foreign national. A regulation limits processing a foreign national for refugee status when she or he may benefit from family-based immigration or apply for a special immigrant visa. See 8 C.F.R. § 207.1(c)

U.S. law does not allow immigration based upon all family relationships. Family-based immigration focuses upon spouses (including LGBTQ spouses), children, parents, sisters, and brothers. The ability to file a family-based I-130 petition for certain relatives depends upon the petitioner’s status as a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.