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The topic of refugees in the United States comes up frequently in our news cycles. We see this most often when there is a new or escalating humanitarian crisis. This past week, with the horrible news coming out of Afghanistan, the topic is at the forefront again.

The process, admittance, requirements, etc. of the U.S. Refugee Program are confusing and vary by country. We are going to attempt to break down this process here and provide access to additional resources. 

Refugee Process in the U.S.


These are the basic requirements and steps in the process. These requirements vary by crisis, country, etc. and more resources are provided below. 

Who is a refugee?


Under U.S. Law, a refugee is someone who:

  • Is located outside of the United States
  • Is of special humanitarian concern
  • Was persecuted or fears persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a group
  • Must not be firmly settled in another location already

What is the process? 


Receive a referral
    • Priority 1 – Cases referred by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, or a designated non-governmental organization (NGO)
    • Priority 2 – Groups of special humanitarian concern as identified by the U.S. refugee program
    • Priority 3 – Family Reunification Cases
  • Currently, refugees must already be outside their country of origin when they apply for refugee status. In special cases, as authorized by the President, those who are still in their home country may apply. 
Complete the Application Process
  • Pre-screening Interview – a look at your documents, your case, and biographic information
  • USCIS Interview – everyone in your case must attend this interview. This will go deeper into your case and the reasons for fleeing your home country and need for resettlement
  • Medical Screening – ensures that you meet medical requirements to enter the U.S., do not pose a threat to other travelers, and can receive appropriate medical assistance, as required, when you arrive in the U.S.
  • Cultural Orientation – this will provide you with details about what to expect during your travel to the U.S. and also provide information about U.S. customs, laws, and provide realistic expectations of what your new environment will entail. It will also help to prepare you with any new skills you might need during your resettlement
  • Travel – will be coordinated by the International Organization for Migration and will provide a travel loan for the costs
  • Arrival – a representative of the government-approved resettlement agency will meet you at the airport, ensure you having housing, support you in finding work and assist you in your resettlement for the first 30 – 90 days

The current crisis: What is the U.S. doing for Afghan refugees?


There have been a lot of changes in the lead-up to what is currently happening in Afghanistan. Below are the facts of the refugee and visa availability to those specific to this crisis as of August 2021. 

  • Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) are available for Afghans and their families who have helped the U.S. The number of these visas available was expanded in 2021.
  • The application process can be long and arduous and there are still not enough available. However, the Biden administration has set aside funds to expedite this process and expand the program.
  • On August 16th, 2021, $500 million in emergency funds were made available to expedite help for Afghan refugees and the relocation of refugees. These funds are also intended to support other vulnerable Afghans, even if they don’t qualify for SIVs 
  • As of August 2021, the USRAP has provided Priority 2 designation to Afghan Nationals 

As more information becomes available, we will do our best to keep you up to date. We are committed to trying to help as many people figure out life in the United States and make their entry and settlement as smooth as possible, even in times of crisis. 



What is a Refugee in the U.S. and the Refugee Process

Referrals to U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)

U.S. Refugee Admissions Program

Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs)

Unexpected Urgent Refugee and Migration Needs

Priority 2 designation to Afghan Nationals 

Refugee Reception and Placement

Refugee Resettlement Program Explained – UN Refugees

If you have more questions, contact us, let us know your needs, and we can work to help you find an organization that specializes in your specific situation or can provide more information.