How do refugees come to Minnesota?

The long process of exile and being replanted in the U.S.

There are currently between 15-16 million refugees in the world today who have been forced to flee their homelands because of persecution based on their race, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. One of the most common questions asked of World Relief Minnesota staff is “how do refugees get chosen to come to the U.S. and Minnesota?

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is only one of many ways the U.S. supports the protection and search for durable solutions for refugees in the world. In fact, third country refugee resettlement is often the method of last resort.

durable solutions

The first and preferred solution for most refugees is safe, voluntary return to their homelands. This option is available for a small minority of refugees, as it is from persecution by their own government that they fled, and would again face if they were to return.

The second durable solution is to pursue self-sufficiency and local integration in countries of asylum. While developed countries provide most of the funding that assists refugees, developing countries host the vast majority of the world’s refugees. For a number of reasons, host countries may prevent refugees from gaining legal status, working, or integrating into their society. In many situations, they are confined to the boundaries of a refugee camp. This perpetual limbo – not being able to return to one’s home country or integrate into the second country of asylum – is why refugee camps are commonly referred to as “human warehousing.”

Third country refugee resettlement is considered when refugees cannot repatriate, are at risk in their country of refuge, there is no alternative and lasting way to eliminate the danger to the legal or physical security of the person concerned, or when they are resettled as part of a burden-sharing arrangement. Less than half of 1% of refugees in the world are offered the durable solution of third country resettlement to a developed nation such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, or other countries. The United States offers resettlement to the largest number of refugees.

The Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) coordinates within the Department of State, as well as with the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS/USCIS) and other agencies to determine which individuals or groups will have access to U.S. resettlement consideration.

processing priorities of the USRAP

The process of determining which refugees may access the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is spelled out every year by the President of the United States in the the USRAP.

  • The Priority One or (P-1) is for individuals who are referred to the USRAP by the UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or an NGO because of compelling protection needs for whom resettlement appears to be the appropriate durable solution.
  • Priority Two (P-2) includes specific groups (within certain nationalities, clans or ethnic groups, sometimes in specified locations) identified by the Department of State in consultation with DHS/USCIS, NGOs, UNHCR, and other experts as being in need of resettlement.
  • The Priority Three (P-3) is often referred to as “family reunification.” This processing allows for persons of certain nationalities admitted to the U.S. as refugees or granted asylum to bring their spouse, unmarried children under age 21 and parents to the U.S.
  • Lastly, a refugee admitted to the United States may request following-to-join benefits for his or her spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 if the family was separated. Once in the United States, and within two years of admission, the refugee may file a Visa 93 Relative Petition for each eligible family member with DHS/USCIS.

refugee case processing: a rigorous, detailed process

The less than one half of 1% of refugees who enter the U.S. through the USRAP must pass through a number of steps in order to certify their refugee claim, gather their personal information, and ensure that they do not pose a security risk to the United States.

After a refugee case is approved by the USCIS/DHS officer, it is allocated to the headquarters office of a resettlement agency (such as World Relief). The headquarters office will send each case to a local affiliate office (e.g., World Relief Minnesota) depending on several factors including if the case has a relative or friend whom they would like to join, the language capacity of the local office, and other considerations. Most refugees also receive between 5-20 hours of cultural orientation to learn how to get on and off an airplane and what to expect in their new life in the U.S. Finally, before their tickets are booked, refugees sign a promissory note for the cost of their plane ticket(s), which they must begin to pay back once they have been in the U.S. for 4-6 months.

Once to their final destination, refugees receive basic Reception and Placement (R&P) services from a Voluntary Resettlement Agency (such as World Relief) according to the agency’s contract with the Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Because refugees generally arrive with few or no financial resources, they usually also qualify for other state benefits and services.