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Who is eligible for refugee status in the U.S.?

Under U.S. law, a refugee is someone who:

  • Is located outside of the United States
  • Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States
  • Demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
  • Is not firmly resettled in another country
  • Is admissible to the United States

A refugee does not include anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

For the legal definition of refugee, see section 1101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

How rigorous is the refugee admissions vetting process?

In August 2018, the US Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) published its list of detailed screenings. In addition, there are a number of steps in the United Nation’s refugee screening process plus the US Refugee Resettlement Program. This chart provides further details.

How many refugees are being proposed for admission to the U.S. and from what categories?

The admissions ceiling for refugees in the current federal fiscal year (Oct. 2019-Sept. 2020) is 18,000, a further drastic reduction from previous years. The visas are proposed to be allocated as follows:

Population of special humanitarian concern Admit up to
Refugees who:

  • have been persecuted or a have well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or
  • who are within a category of aliens established under subsection (b) of Section 599D of Title V, P. L. 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments).
Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in Section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, P. L. 110-181, as amended. 4,000
Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. 1,500
Other refugees not covered by the foregoing categories, including:

  • Those referred to the USRAP by a U.S. embassy in any location.
  • Those who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the Priority 3 process or through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition.
  • Those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia.
Total proposed refugee admissions in FY 2020 18,000
Refugees get huge settlement grants and interest free loans, don’t they?

No. A modest grant of $1,175 is provided on a per capita basis. Resettlement agencies are required to meet a variety of basic needs, including housing, food, and transportation costs for 90 days after arrival. Frequently, the needs exceed available funding as noted on the following chart:

Household Size Single Person 2 People 3 People 4 People 5 People
Spending Money $20 $40 $40 $60 $60
Security Deposit $550 $600 $650 $650 $700
Rent (3 months) $1,650 $1,800 $1,950 $1,950 $2,100
Home Set-Up $400 $500 $600 $900 $1,100
Utilities (3 months) $945 $945 $945 $1,100 $1,100
Food @ $5 day/each $150 $300 $450 $600 $750
Bus Pass (1 month) $90 $180 $180 $240 $240
Subtotal – Expense $3,805 $4,365 $4,815 $5,500 $6,050
Resettlement Allowance $1,175 $2,350 $3,235 $4,700 $5,875
Funding Gap ($2,630) ($2,015) ($1,580) ($800) ($175)

Sometimes, refugees live within walking distance of their services and do not need bus passes; other times their landlord might waive the security deposit. In any case, the resettlement agency must reach out to the community for charitable contributions to meet the funding gap, which averages $100 per refugee sponsored.

To assist with initial transition, refugees are also eligible for TANF benefits (cash assistance) at Missouri state rates and Medicaid for no longer than eight months after arrival.  However, since TANF rates are so low, most newly arrived refugees go to work as soon as they can find a job, regardless of their knowledge of English or previous work experience.

Also, after six months, refugees are required to begin repaying their travel loans which can cost as much as $1,500 per person.

In addition, there are special small business start-up loans for refugee entrepreneurs. However, the interest rate for such loans is higher than if they borrowed from a bank. Once they build their credit history and acquire collateral, we encourage such borrowers to see business loans at a traditional financial institution.

What are some credible data resources?

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