Individuals seeking U.S. protection from persecution or a well-founded threat of persecution in another country can apply as a refugee, if applying from outside the U.S., or as an asylee, if applying while within U.S. borders. This article explains some basic information about applying from outside the U.S. through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
Individuals can gain refugee status through USRAP first by being identified and referred by any of the following entities: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the body under the UN which we discussed in a previous post; a U.S. embassy; or a designated nongovernmental organization (NGO). After that referral, an office called the Resettlement Support Center (RSC) prepares a case file on the applicant–which includes taking the applicant’s photograph, collecting information for security clearance, and verifying the facts alleged by the applicant–through which the applicant must demonstrate he or she meets the definition of “refugee” under U.S. law. The RSC then arranges for the applicant’s interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which ultimately decides the application.
The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) states the following general policy with respect to requests for asylum through embassy posts:
The general policy of the United States is to encourage local or regional resettlement of refugees and international burden-sharing among governments providing third-country resettlement opportunities. Therefore, in routine cases involving asylum seekers from third countries, refer individuals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or, if the host country has satisfactory asylum procedures, to the host government for adjudication of the refugee’s asylum claim.2 FAM 227.2
The manual further states that embassies should not promise persons a grant of asylum or refugee status—rather, the embassies should “refer any individual who appears to meet the definition of a refugee to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for consideration.” Id.
The USCIS and USRAP consider refugee applicants under three priority levels: Priority One, Priority Two, and Priority Three. See The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) Consultation & Worldwide Processing Priorities. These priority levels indicate application types, and do not establish precedence or ordering in processing–once individuals are determined as qualified for the USRAP program, they all undergo the same processing steps. See U.S. Dept. of State Report to Congress at 28 fn. 19.
Individuals under Priority 1 (P-1) are those whom the UNHCR, a U.S. embassy, or a designated NGO have identified and referred to the USRAP, as described above.
Individuals under Priority 2 (P-2) are those whom U.S. law has identified as being of “a special humanitarian concern.” Individuals who qualify under P-2 may apply for the USRAP directly without first being referred by the referring entities for P-1 applicants. See U.S. Dept. of State Report to Congress at 28.
Individuals under the P-2 category include:
- For those inside their home country, certain members of religious minority groups in Eurasia and the Baltics, and certain Iraqis associated with the United States;
- For those outside their home country, certain members of religious minority groups in Iran, and certain Iraqis associated with the United States.
For more details on P-2 categories, please see U.S. Dept. of State Report to Congress at 28.
Individuals under Priority 3 (P-3) are those considered “family reunification cases,” or persons of certain nationalities who have immediate family members (i.e. parents, spouses, or children) in the U.S. who already had entered as refugees or had been granted asylum. The nationalities who qualify for P-3 include those from:
- Central African Republic
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
- El Salvador
- South Sudan
See U.S. Dept. of State Report to Congress at 28-29.
Those who apply for the USRAP under the P-3 category use Form I-730. At some point during the process DHS or Dept. of State consular officers interview P-3 applicants to verify the relationships claimed in the petition and examine possible bars to admissibility. Applicants in the P-3 category are not required to establish past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution because their status derives from the petitioner. Applicants under this category may be processed within or outside their country of origin.
Applicants for refugee status first undergo security screenings. After passing those screenings, the applicant is evaluated to determine eligibility for refugee status and admissibility into the U.S. After succeeding in that stage, the applicant is legally designated as a refugee and accepted for resettlement into the U.S. That person is then admitted into the U.S. as a refugee under INA § 207, and eligible for further resettlement assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).