Obtaining Refugee Status in the United States

Sometimes, people from other countries come to the United States due to poor circumstances in their native country. This may happen if the individual is forced to leave their country due to war, persecution, violence, or even a natural disaster. These individuals are known as refugees. A refugee may be persecuted for reasons such as their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or social group. In these cases, they either cannot return home or they are afraid of doing so. These people may obtain refugee status as a form of protection in the United States.


In order to be deemed a refugee in the United States, a foreign individual is required to meet certain requirements. This includes:

  • They must be located outside of the United States
  • They must be of special humanitarian concern to the United States
  • They can prove they were persecuted or that they have a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted if they return to their country
  • They are not permanently living in another country
  • They can legally be admitted to the United States

It is important to understand that a person cannot be considered for refugee status if they ordered, incited, assisted, or participated in the persecution of anyone because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion.

Priority Cases

There are certain cases in which the United States will prioritize an individual for refugee status. The categories for priority are as follows:

  • Priority 1: A case that is identified and referred to the program by United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), a United States Embassy, or a designated non-governmental organization
  • Priority 2: Groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the United States refugee program
  • Priority 3: A family reunification case in which the spouse, child, or parents of a person lawfully admitted to the United States as refugees, asylees, permanent residents, or citizens who previously had refugee or asylum status

How to Apply for Refugee Status

When an individual wants to receive refugee status in the United States and they are eligible, there is a certain process. The individual must either be referred to by UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or a designated non-governmental organization, or they can begin the application process with a Resettlement Support Center.

After the individual has been referred to the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and is found eligible for refugee status, a number of things will happen. This process is as follows:

  • The application will be processed by the Resettlement Support Center and all biographical information will be gathered
  • The individual will have an in-person interview with a United States Citizen and Immigration Services refugee officer
  • A health screening will be done to identify medical needs and to ensure the individual has no contagious diseases
  • The Resettlement Support Center will request “sponsorship assurance” from different community-based organizations
  • The individual must take a course on cultural orientation

Contact our Firm

John Sesini is an experienced immigration attorney with offices in Green Bay and Milwaukee Wisconsin. If you have any questions regarding immigration law matters, please contact the Sesini Law Group, S.C. and schedule your initial consultation with our firm today.

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