Every year, the federal government sets a ceiling on the number of persons it will allow resettlement to the U.S. as refugees. For the fiscal year 2011, the ceiling was set at 80,000. This number is allocated among six global geographic regions as follows:
Africa – 15,000
East Asia – 19,000
Europe and Central Asia – 2,000
Latin America/Caribbean – 5,500
Near East/South Asia – 35,500
Unallocated Reserve – 3,000
(Source: DHS Office of Immigration Statistics)
Foreign nationals who have been displaced from their homelands due to war, famine, domestic strife or the threat of persecution may apply to be resettled in the United States by contacting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an international volunteer organization or the nearest U.S. consulate. To qualify as a “refugee,” the applicant must be currently living outside of his home country and unable or unwilling to return due to the threat of well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
However, just as with asylum, a person is not eligible for refugee status if they have been involved in the persecution of others, firmly settled in another country, committed certain crimes or engaged in activities that make him a threat to U.S. security. Also, an individual generally is not eligible for refugee status if they are an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or a special worker (e.g., religious worker, employee of the U.S. government abroad, etc.). In this case, the person should apply for a green card.
Once the resettlement request has been approved, the refugee (and the immediate family members listed on the resettlement application) can enter the U.S. in refugee status. Just like asylees, refugees may apply for work permits, travel documents. After one year, they may apply for a green card (see the article Labor Certification: Permanent Employment, Permanent Residence (Green Card)).
In the next and final article in this series we will discuss refugee status for family members, and employment for refugees.