World Refugee Day is on Thursday, June 20th, which brings attention to the worldwide refugee crises around the world.
According to the United Nations (UN), by the end of 2017, there were 25.4 million refugees worldwide, the highest number every recorded. The UN also found that two-thirds of all refugees come from only five countries: Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.
In honor of World Refugee Day, this week’s blog post covers how the U.S. defines a refugee, how the U.S. refugee system started, and how that system is set up.
What is the definition of a refugee?
The United States has specific requirements a person must meet to be considered a refugee. According to USCIS, a person is considered a refugee when they
>are located outside the U.S.
>are of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.
>have demonstrated they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
>are not firmly resettled in another country
>are admissible to the U.S.
The legal definition for a refugee can be found in U.S. code, 8 USC 1101: Definitions.
How did the U.S. refugee system start?
Originally authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, the U.S. refugee system has gone through many iterations in its almost 70 year history.
In the late 1970s, as a reaction to the Vietnam War, Congress felt the need to strengthen and expand the refugee system at the time.
As a result, the Refugee Act was passed in 1980, which codified into law an official refugee processing system. This law also raised the ceiling on the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. each year, as well as instituting the standard of “well-founded fear of persecution,” which originated with United Nations protocols.
Since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, there have been several changes to the overall system. The most recent changes were made through executive orders by President Trump.
How is the U.S. refugee program set up?
By law, the U.S. refugee program falls under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS is responsible for the processing and adjudication of refugee applications.
The current President of the U.S., however, is responsible for setting the annual ceiling number for refugee admissions. The current ceiling for FY 2019 is 30,000, the lowest ceiling since the program began in 1980. Beyond the worldwide ceiling, the President also sets an individual ceiling for each region of the world.
There are three levels of processing priorities under the U.S. system.
Priority 1: Cases identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, or a specially-trained non-governmental organization (NGO). According to the Congressional Research Service, these cases are usually the most pressing and include those where “resettlement seems to be the appropriate durable solution.”
Priority 2: Cases involving “groups of special humanitarian concern to the United States.” These cases are typically identified by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and do not require the person seeking refugee status to go through the UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or NGO.
Priority 3: Cases involving family reunification. Family reunification can apply to spouses, unmarried children under 21, and some parents “of persons lawfully admitted to the U.S. as refugees or asylees or persons who are lawful permanent residents of U.S. citizens who previously had refugee or asylum status,” according to USCIS.
Where can I learn more about refugees and the U.S. refugee program?
There are several excellent online resources where you can learn more about refugees and the U.S. Program.
The United Nations (UN) is leading the way around the world in research on refugees and refugee crises. You can visit their website dedicated to refugees, their “What is a refugee?” fact sheet, their fact sheet on Refugee Statistics, and their fact sheet about refugees in the U.S.
There are also several sources from the U.S. government related specifically to the refugee system in the U.S. Some of those sources include:
>USCIS’s “USCIS Welcomes Refugees and Asylees” pamphlet
>USCIS’s page on refugees
>USCIS’s “How Do I” guides for refugees
>USCIS’s “Questions & Answers: Refugees” page
>USCIS’s “Refugee Security Screening Fact Sheet”
>the Congressional Research Service’s “Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy”
Do you or a loved one need help with your case?
We are here to assist you with your case related to obtaining refugee status in the United States. You can contact us at any of the ways below.
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Disclaimer: Nothing in relation to the enclosed information should be construed and or considered as legal advice for any individual, entity, case, or situation. The following information is prepared for advertisement use only. The information is intended ONLY to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice on your specific situation, we encourage you to consult an attorney experienced in the area of Immigration Law.