What Is a Refugee?

What is a refugee?

A refugee is an individual living outside of his/her home country and who is unable to return to his/her home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

What is the Refugee process in the US?

The refugee process is very extensive and thorough.  It could be years before a person is designated as refugee eligible to come to the U.S.  Therefore, the refugee status has to be granted before the arrival to the United States. Refugees go into a comprehensive background check to verify that they are admissible to the United States.  More information about the extensive screening process can be found here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states

Can a refugee work in the U.S?

A refugee is authorized to work immediately upon arriving to the U.S.

Can a refugee petition for family members?

A refugee may petition for family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old) outside the U.S to join them.  There are some qualifications and deadlines that need to be met in order to file these family petitions so it’s important to seek legal advice promptly.

When can a refugee apply for his/her green card?

Refugees are required by law to apply for his/her green card (legal permanent residence card) in the U.S one year after being admitted as a refugee.  Each refugee has to file his/her own application (family members must file separately for their green card).

What are the qualifications to apply for a green card?

For a refugee to be eligible to apply for a green card, she/he must:

  • be present in the U.S for at least one year
  • be admissible to the U.S. as an immigrant
  • refugee status has not been terminated or cancelled
  • not currently have a green card (permanent resident card)

Can a Refugee travel outside the U.S?

It is important to always ask a legal representative before the refugee travels outside the U.S.  Travel can lead to loss of the refugee’s status and possibly put the refugee in removal proceedings from the U.S.  Also, a refugee should not be using his/her home country passport to travel outside the U.S.  A “refugee travel document” is needed to travel outside the U.S.

Can a refugee renew his/her home country passport?

It is strongly recommended that a refugee does not use or renew his/her home country passport when travelling.  Using or renewing a home country passport would cause issues to his/her original assignation as refugees.

Can a refugee vote in the United States?

A refugee is not eligible to register to vote or vote in the United States. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in the U.S.

When can a refugee apply to become a U.S. citizen?

After a refugee has had his/her green card for five years, he/she is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

What are the benefits of becoming a U.S citizen?

Some of the benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen are:

  • Voting rights
  • Eligible to bring family members to the U.S.
  • Children born abroad to U.S citizens are automatically U.S citizens as long as certain criteria is met
  • Ability to travel with a U.S. passport
  • Eligible for Federal jobs
  • Ability to become an elected official in the U.S.



*The contents of this blog post are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.  For advice on specific legal issues, please contact our Immigrant Legal Services department.



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