How to Obtain Refugee Status

There are two types of humanitarian forms of relief. One form is indicated as refugee status and the other is asylum status. Although both forms of relief are similar and require the same burden of proof, they differ procedurally. An individual requesting protection while in the U.S. is given asylee status where as an individual requesting protection while overseas is considered a refugee.

A refugee is a person who fears persecution from their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group and is unable to return to their country due to fear. The Refugee Act was passed in 1980 following the Vietnam War during a time when the U.S. resettled Southeast Asian refugees. In order to begin the refugee process, one must file his or her application with the Department of State Resettlement Support Center or be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, or a nongovernmental organization. The UNHCR will conduct an initial screening in order to determine whether the individual applying is eligible for refugee status under international law.

Those individuals classified as refugees who are in need of resettlement are referred to one of nine Resettlement Supper Centers (RSCs) where an initial screening is completed. From there, multiple background checks are conducted as well as biographic and biometric checks. Once all security checks are cleared, and an official notice from USCIS is received, the RSC will organize travel for the refugee to arrive in the U.S. The State Department’s Reception and Placement Program provides rent, food, clothing, etc. for an initial 90-day period. The individual may apply for Lawful Permanent Resident Status one year post resettlement in the U.S.

On average, the entire process can take anywhere from 18-24 months, though the process may take longer depending on the time to clear all relevant security checks. Another factor to keep in mind when applying for refugee status is the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. Each year, the U.S. President and Congress determines a numerical limit on how many refugees the U.S. will accept. Since the Trump administration, refugee admissions have decreased significantly due to the limited annual numerical limit. Currently, under the Biden administration, the numerical limit stands at 62,500.

If you or someone you know is seeking to apply for refugee status, please reach out to our office by calling (201) 880-9374 or by emailing so that we can provide you with a detailed consultation!