USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Click on a question or scroll down the page:

What is the difference between refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons?

How do refugees come to America?

I'm a refugee. How can I resettle in the United States?

Refugee IOM Travel Loans FAQs

How do I file for family reunification?

What does USCRI do?

For questions about refugee warehousing, please visit our Refugee Warehousing FAQ page.


What is the difference between refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons?  

The following list of definitions explains the meaning behind, as well as the difference between, the terms refugee, asylum seeker, and internally displaced person: 

1951 U.N. Refugee Convention: On July 28, 1951, world governments adopted the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.  The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol established the legal standards for refugee protection.

Asylum seeker: An individual outside his or her country of origin seeking refugee status based on a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion, but whose claim has not been legally substantiated.  Often, an asylum seeker must undergo a legal procedure in which the host country decides if he/she qualifies for refugee or another form of legal status.  International law recognizes the right to seek asylum, but does not oblige states to provide it.

Durable solutions: Refugee protection and assistance organizations generally promote three durable solutions to refugees' plight: voluntary repatriation, local integration in the country of first asylum, or resettlement in a third country.  For a full explanation of the three solutions, click on the terms above or scroll down to I'm a refugee, how can I resettle in the United States?

Internally displaced person (IDP): Someone who has been forced from his/her home for refugee-like reasons, but remains within the borders of his/her own country.  Still under the jurisdiction of a government that might not want international agencies to help him/her, an internally displaced person may continue to be vulnerable to persecution or violence.  There are more IDPs than refugees, and they are of growing concern to USCRI.

Local integration: When it is not safe for refugees to return home after a prolonged period in exile, a host government may decide to allow refugees to integrate locally.  Local integration is one of three possible durable solutions.

Refugee: An individual who is outside his or her country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion who is unable to, or owing to such a fear, unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country.  The definition is sometimes expanded to include people fleeing war or other armed conflict.

Third-country resettlement:  When repatriation would be unsafe and the first-asylum country refuses local integration, a third country must be found to accept the refugees.  Third-country resettlement is usually the last option of the three possible durable solutions

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): Established in 1951, UNHCR is the branch of the United Nations charged with the international protection of refugees.  UNHCR has increasingly been asked not only to protect refugees, but to provide assistance to them.  Mr. António Guterres is the current high commissioner.

Voluntary Repatriation: When conditions in the home country have changed so much that refugees no longer believe their lives or liberty are threatened, they may return home voluntarily.  Voluntary repatriation is one of three possible durable solutions.  

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How Do Refugees Come to America?

Less than 80,000 refugees participated in the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP) last year.  It is a lengthy, difficult process.  Click the links below to view the steps a refugee must take to resettle in the United States:

  1. Becoming a Refugee
  2. Seeking Admission to the USRP
  3. Refugee Resettlement in the United States
  4. Becoming a Contributing Member of the Community

1. Becoming a Refugee

Refugees flee their homes, businesses, farms, and communities in order to escape war and persecution.  Often refugees flees to save their or their families' lives.  They rarely know how long it will be before it is safe to return home and they often have no time to plan the departure or pack appropriately.  Family records, professional documents, diplomas, photographs, and other precious items are often left behind.

Seeking Legal Refugee Status
In order to receive official refugee status in a country of asylum, an individual has to have left his or her home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, social group affiliation, or political opinion.  The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is usually responsible for awarding legal refugee status.  In addition, UNHCR often offers refugees protection, assistance, and alternative legal and travel documents.

Seeking Resettlement
UNHCR refers only about 1 percent of all refugees for resettlement in a third country.  Only when all efforts to either help refugees return home or settle permanently in the country of asylum have failed does third country resettlement become the option of last resort.  The following countries have resettlement programs: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.  Other countries accept individual refugees on an ad hoc basis.  Family ties, trade skills, professional abilities, language facility, and various other factors are considered by UNHCR when matching a refugee with a resettlement country.

2. Seeking Admission to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP)

Referral to the USRP
Only refugees who have been referred by UNHCR or by the U.S. embassy in the country of asylum are eligible for the USRP.  Usually, a family is referred together as a single group.  The Department of State's Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) oversees this program.  The State Department develops application criteria, refugee admission ceilings, and presents eligible cases to a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), for adjudication.  The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) describes the process of application for admission to the United States as a refugee in 9 FAM Part IV Appendix O.

Refugees who meet the criteria for application to the USRP are interviewed by a USCIS officer who travels to the country of asylum.  The U.S. Department of State contracts resettlement and/or nongovernmental organizations to assist refugees who may need help preparing their resettlement application forms.  The application typically consists of USCIS Form I-590, family tree, and biographical information.  The USCIS officer decides whether the applicant is a refugee as defined under U.S. lawAn individual's designation as a refugee by UNHCR does not guarantee admission to the USRP.

Refugees whose applications for U.S. resettlement receive USCIS approval are matched with an American resettlement organization that will facilitate their resettlement to the United States.  Most of these nonprofit organizations rely on professional and volunteer staff to assist refugees in the resettlement process.  If rejected, the applicant has thirty days to file a motion to reconsider the denial with the nearest USCIS district office.  Generally, a motion is considered only if it contains new information not available at the original interview.

3. Refugee Resettlement in the United States

Being Matched with an American Resettlement Organization
Detailed information on all refugees approved for resettlement in the United States is sent to the Refugee Data Center (RDC) in New York.  RDC matches refugees with one of eleven voluntary agencies that provide reception and placement services for refugees coming to the United States.

Pre-travel Activities
In order to ensure that a refugee understands that everyone living in America is expected to be self-sufficient and that no refugee should be an undue burden to American society, he or she must complete several additional steps before traveling to the United States.  These activities are undertaken concurrently and can take from 2 months to 2 years to complete:

  • Assurance process: The American resettlement organization must "assure" the Department of State that it is prepared to receive each matched refugee.  This "assurance" is a written guarantee that various basic services will be provided to the refugee and any accompanying family members in the initial resettlement phase.  At this time, the resettlement organization determines where in the United States the refugee will be resettled based on the availability of housing, employment, needed services, readiness of host community, and a variety of other factors.  However, if a refugee has a relative in the United States, every effort is made to resettle the refugee near that relative.  Refugees do not have to have U.S. sponsors to be resettled in the United States.
  • Medical clearance: Prior to coming to the United States, all refugees are medically screened by a health care professional working for the U.S. government.  The screening identifies medical conditions that require follow-up or constitute a public health concern.  A few serious conditions may render a refugee ineligible for entry into the United States; however, a waiver may be available.  After being "medically cleared," a refugee must enter the United States within one year.
  • Security clearance: All refugees must undergo a security clearance procedure prior to coming to the United States.  The level of clearance needed depends on the refugee's country of origin.  In most cases, the refugee's name is checked against the FBI's database of known terrorists and undesirables, as well as the State Department's database of people who have been denied visas to enter the United States in the past.
  • Cultural orientation: All refugees receive some form of cultural orientation prior to coming to the United States.  Most programs emphasize the importance of self-sufficiency in American society,  as well as what to expect in the initial resettlement phase.  Classes range in length from three hours to several days. 

Travel to the United States
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) arranges air travel for most U.S.-bound refugees.  Before a refugee leaves the country of asylum, he or she signs a promissory note and agrees to repay the U.S. government for travel costs (scroll down or click the link for more information about refugee travel loans).  Upon receiving necessary travel details from IOM, the American resettlement organization makes arrangements for the refugee's arrival.

United States Arrival and Reception
After meeting, welcoming, and assisting the refugee at the airport, the resettlement organization begins the process of helping the refugee become settled in his or her new community.

First Steps in U.S. Resettlement
Most newly arrived refugees desperately want a permanent home.  Resettlement organizations work hard to find housing for each refugee that is safe, sanitary, of a sufficient size, affordable, and accessible to public transportation.  The American resettlement organization that assured a refugee's case is responsible for assisting the refugee in the initial resettlement phase.  Each resettlement organization provides a variety of services to promote early self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment.  The following activities take place within the first thirty days of arrival:

  • Application for a Social Security number: Refugees need social security numbers in order to seek employment or enroll their children in school.  All refugees register with the Social Security Administration as soon as possible.
  • School registration: All refugee children are enrolled in school upon arrival in the United States.
  • Medical evaluation: Even though refugees are medically screened prior to entering the United States, each is examined again by medical professionals in their new communities.  At this time, refugees are familiarized with their local health care system.  They also receive needed inoculations and other necessary treatments.
  • English language training: Refugees often do not speak any English when they arrive.  Learning English is an essential step to becoming self-sufficient.  Voluntary agencies often provide English Language Training (ELT) courses or help refugees find available classes in their new community.

4. Becoming a Contributing Member of the Community

Finding Employment
Refugees enter the United States with authorization to work.  The U.S. government expects a working-age refugee to find a job within six months of arrival.  Resettlement organizations often have employment specialists who help refugees with their job search.  Many states have a designated agency that receives state funds to help refugees find work.  This function is usually coordinated by the State Refugee Coordinator.

Gaining Permanent Residency
Refugees can apply for Permanent Resident Alien (PRA) status (commonly known as a “green card”) after they have been in the United States for one year.

Becoming a Citizen
Refugees can apply for U.S. citizenship after residing in the United States for five years.  Many resettlement organizations have citizenship programs that assist, guide, and encourage refugees through the naturalization process.

Building a New Life
Refugees spend many years overcoming past trauma, locating family members, adjusting to American culture, building careers, raising families, finding their first dream home, and creating a new life for themselves in the United States.

More details on particular aspects of this process can be obtained from these agencies:

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I'm a refugee.  How can I resettle in the United States?

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is a national, non-governmental refugee resettlement and advocacy organization; however, we do NOT have the authority to provide referrals to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP). 

The United States currently offers access to the USRP through three processing priorities, P1-3 Referrals.  These types of referrals are made three ways: UNHCR offices, U.S. Embassies, and designated non-governmental organizations may make P1 individual referrals; the U.S. Department of State may make P2 group referrals; and, eligible family members living in the United States may initiate a P3 family reunification case. 

The following websites offer more information about accessing refugee resettlement programs:

Unfortunately, opportunities for resettlement in a third country are very limited.  Candidates for refugee status can apply to the nearest office of the UNHCR.  If the UNHCR office in your area determines that you are a refugee as defined by international law, that office will seek a durable solution on your behalf.  Durable solutions routinely sought by the UNHCR include:

  • help to return to your home country
  • help to remain permanently in your country of asylum
  • help to resettle in a third country

Once you are registered as a refugee with the UNHCR and considered eligible for third-country resettlement, the UNHCR office will guide you through the next steps of the process. 

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Refugee IOM Travel Loans FAQs

What is a Travel Loan?
The United States government issues interest-free loans to cover the cost of airfare to refugees migrating to the United States through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.  After resettlement, refugees must repay these loans.  These loans help newcomers to our country establish credit and familiarize themselves with American financial systems.

How can I reach IOM?
You can reach USCRI's IOM (International Organization for Migration) Department at 1-866-316-6555, or via email: Masady Mani at or Judith Hudgens at

How can I pay my travel loan?
You must pay your travel loan by mail with a check or money order made out to: USCRI, P.O. BOX 64155, Baltimore MD 21264-4155.  You can also sign up to pay through your bank's Online Bill Payer Program.  USCRI does NOT accept credit card, debit card, or phone payments.

When are my payments due?
Payments are due on the 10th of each month.  Your first statement will be sent six months after you arrive in the United States.

What happens if I cannot pay?
If you cannot pay your IOM bill, please call or write to us immediately.  There are several assistance options available, but we must first be made aware of your situation.

What happens when I move?
If you move while you are still repaying your IOM loan, be sure to inform our office in writing or by phone.  Please be prepared to provide us with your name, loan ID number, and new address.  You can reach us by phone at 1-866-316-6555, or via email: Masady Mani at or Judith Hudgens at  Please note that payments are due on the 10th of each month with or without your statement!

I’m now over 18 and want to pay for my portion of the loan.  How do I do that?
If you're over 18 and are prepared to pay for your portion of the loan, contact us in writing or by phone and we will advise.  To reach us by phone, call 1-866-316-6555, or send an email to Masady Mani,, or Judith Hudgens,

What happens if I don’t repay my loan?
If you do not repay your loan, you run the risk of impairing your credit history.  This can cause you to be denied credit in the future.  What's more, the money from your repayment is used to give another refugee the opportunity to resettle in the United States.

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How do I File for Family Reunification?

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is a national, non-governmental refugee resettlement and advocacy organization; however, we do NOT have the authority to make decisions on family reunification cases. 
If you are currently residing in the United States and received admission to the United States as a refugee or asylee and are interested in sponsoring your own family members for resettlement here, you will need to file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) form.  For more information about the AOR, please refer to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Dept. of State

If you are eligible to file an Affidavit of Relationship form, then we encourage you to visit a local resettlement agency (including one our our field offices), in order to best assist you with filing the appropriate form.  If you are ineligible to file an Affidavit of Relationship, you may wish to file a Refugee Interest Form which will not generate a resettlement case, but will link the case of your family or friend to your location in the event that they obtain resettlement to the United States with a resettlement agency.  Please advise your family members to register with the local UNHCR office in their country of refuge if they have not already done so. 

The following websites offer more information about accessing family reunification services:

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What does USCRI do?

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is a national, nonprofit, non-governmental, nonsectarian, nonpartisan refugee resettlement and advocacy organization.  USCRI does NOT have the authority to provide referrals to the U.S. Resettlement Program (USRP).  USCRI is NOT a granting organization and does NOT disburse grants or financial humanitarian assistance.

As one of eleven Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs), USCRI provides reception and placement services to refugees arriving in the United States through a network of partner agencies that includes six field offices located in Albany, NY; Colchester, VT; Des Moines, IA; Detroit, MIErie, PA; and, Raleigh, NC.  We also work with unaccompanied child migrants through the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children and protect refugee rights worldwide through our International Partnerships

Learn more about Our Work >>

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