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Informational Podcast by a Camp Nefesh Volunteer


The Process of Becoming a Refugee in America - by Lexi Fischer

Lexi Fischer: Hello everyone, my name is Lexi Fischer and this podcast is called The Process of Becoming a Refugee in America, where we will discuss the process of getting refugee status and support available to them once they arrive in the United States.

If we are going to discuss refugees it is first important that we all have the same understanding of who is considered a refugee. According to the UN Refugee Agency, also known as the UNHCR, “a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” While this is a general definition of who can be considered a refugee since we will be discussing the process in the US specifically it is important to understand who the US government believes to be a refugee. According to US Customs and Immigration Services, or USCIS, a refugee must be located outside of the US, be able to show that they either were or thought they were being persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, they could not have participated in any way in the persecution of others, they can not be resettled in another country, and they must be declared admissible to the US.

There is a long process for an individual to be classified as a refugee in the United States, so to make this process a little easier to understand let us follow a hypothetical family on their journey. All of the following information on the process this family goes through to get in the US comes from USCIS. We will be following the Sidiqi family whose members consist of 3 children, their father, Dadvar, and their mother, Larmina. The Sidiqi family has recently fled from Afganistan to Pakistan and Dadvar has been referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program by the UNHCR, one of the most common groups to refer individuals, though they could have also been referred by a US Embassy or a nongovernmental organization. Since Dadvar is married and his children are not yet married his family will be considered to come to the US with him. Dadvar now must apply for refugee status, his application will be processed by a Resettlement Support Center, an RSC, in Pakistan and this RSC will also start biographic checks. These biographic checks include Consular Lookout and Support System, and Interagency Check. The Consular Lookout and Support System is a name check database that contains information about previous visa refusals, criminal histories, and terrorism concerns. The Interagency Check allows Dadvar’s information to be checked against information held by other members of the Intelligence Community. Dadvar did not have to have his information go through the Security Advisory Opinion, a biographic check conducted by the FBI, as it is for specific high-risk groups and nationalities. USCIS then reviews the information from the biographic checks and conducts an interview with Dadvar and his family. The interview consists of a USCIS agent confirming biographic data, determining if Dadvar has a well-founded fear of persecution, if he has participated in the persecution of others, and if he has been resettled in another country. At this interview biometric information is taken and further checks are performed. The first check is the FBI Fingerprint Check through Next Generation Identification, this checks for any immigration and criminal history. Next is the DHS Automated Biometric Identification System which checks for travel and immigration history as well as any national security concerns. Finally, the DOD Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency’s Automated Biometric Identification System check is conducted, this checks the biometric data against the Department of Defense (DOD) holdings collected in areas where the DOD has a significant military presence. The RSC is now going to process the Sidiqi’s case as approved for travel, while they have technically have been approved as a refugee they still must complete some steps in the process. The Sidiqi family must go through medical checks to see if any members have any medical needs and to ensure no members have a contagious illness. The RSC will reach out to a resettlement agency in the area the family will be moving to so that the agency can sponsor them. They will also need to go through a cultural orientation before arriving in the US. The last step the Sidiqi family will go through before arriving in the US will be background check by US Customs and Border patrol once they arrive at a port of entry, once they are cleared here they are allowed to officially enter the US as a refugee.

There are a wide variety of sevices made available to refugees once they enter the US, I will discuss the ones that typically affect the widest variety of people. Most of the services are made available to them through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, as state-administered programs. I was able to gather the following information from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Refugees are allowed to participate in many programs open to US citizens such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid. If they are not eligible for these services there are alternatives. As an alternative for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income, there is Refugee Cash Assistance, which the refugee is allowed to utilize for up to 8 months after admission to the US. In place of Medicaid, there is Refugee Medical Assistance which again can be used for up to 8 months after admission to the US. There is also Refugee Social Services which can provide many services to help aid in employment such as help looking for a job, job training, English language learning, daycare and transportation related to jobs, translation services, and naturalization services. The Refugee Social Services are available for up to 5 years after the date of admission to the US. Priorities for this program include those who apply within one year of arriving to the US, those on cash assistance programs, unemployed refugees, and employed individuals who need assistance to stay employed or to become economically self-sufficient. Refugees that live in states that have had a large influx of refugees can also be eligible for the Targeted Assistance Program. The program attempts to help refugees gain employment and become economically self-sufficient within one year of being on the program. This program prioritizes those receiving cash assistance, unemployed refugees who do not get cash assistance, and employed individuals who need assistance to stay employed or to become economically self-sufficient. The Refugee School Impact Program provides funds to school districts that have large numbers of refugee children in order to provide resources for them. Some of these resources might include ESL programs, after school activities, parental involvement programs, and bilingual counselors. The goal of many of these resettlement services are for those who have recently arrived in the US to become economically self-sufficient as soon as possible and to become quickly integrated into the American way of life.

Thank you all for listening to this podcast, next time we will get a chance to discuss what effects this experience can have on refugees, specifically children.

Works Cited

“Divisions - Refugee Assistance.” ACF,

“Learn About the Refugee Application Process.” USCIS, 3 Sept. 2009,

“Learn About the Refugee Application Process.” USCIS, 3 Sept. 2009,

“Obtaining Refugee Status.” MyUSCIS,

“ORR Benefits-At-A-Glance.” ORR Fact Sheet, Office of the Administration for Children and Families,

“Refugee Processing and Security Screening.” USCIS, 28 Aug. 2018,

United Nations. “Refugee Status Determination.” UNHCR,

“What Is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning: USA for UNHCR.” Definition and Meaning | USA for UNHCR,

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