Refugee Resettlement

How do refugees get to the United States?

For an overview of the refugee resettlement process, view this refugee resettlement flow chart.

How does resettlement work?

Each year the U.S. government determines how many refugees to let enter the U.S. From 1999-2009, the determination has allowed for up to 70,000 to 91,000 refugees to come to the U.S. each year for resettlement. However, getting to the point of resettlement in the U.S. is a complicated process, as outlined below:

  • In the home country. When the threat or fear of persecution is so great that individuals and families are forced to flee their homes, some may stay in the country while others seek asylum in neighboring countries. The decision to flee is never taken lightly, as refugees are forced to give up their livelihoods, homes, and social circles.
  • In the country of asylum. After fleeing their home country, refugees take temporary asylum in refugee camps or in communities in neighboring countries. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) then works with them to determine whether they are eligible for refugee status and therefore qualify for UNHCR protection.The UNHCR helps refugees find a durable solution to their situation. For most refugees, the best solution is to voluntarily return to their home country as soon as it is safe. The next best option is integration into the country of asylum, since it typically shares similar cultural and social conditions to the home country. Resettlement in a third country, such as the U.S., is only considered when other options are exhausted.The process of resettlement is lengthy. It includes the preparation of a case file, usually by a Refugee Service Center, an interview with an officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for determination of eligibility, a medical examination, and security clearances.
  • After arrival in the U.S. When refugees come to the U.S., not only are they leaving what they know, they are also being introduced to an entirely new culture, language, weather… even the food is different. To support the immediate transition, the U.S. Department of State has cooperative agreements with national resettlement agencies to provide “Reception and Placement” services. Local affiliates of national refugee resettlement agencies arrange food, housing, clothing, employment, counseling, medical care, and other immediate needs for refugees during the first 90 days after arrival. In addition, refugee resettlement agencies often provide longer-term support for refugees to help them adjust and transition to life in America. The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration map shows the locations of Reception and Placement program affiliate sites around the country. Contact information for these affiliate sites in each state is listed in the Department of State’s Refugee Processing Center Affiliate Directory.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), US Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead agency for domestic refugee programs. Through its various programs and grants, ORR provides assistance to refugees and other eligible persons to help them achieve self-sufficiency and integration within the shortest time period after arriving in the U.S.