The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Explained

“It was very quick. We had to flee Somalia or else we would have lost our lives” recalls Mustafa, a former Somali refugee who spent eight years in Kenya until his family was resettled to the U.S. in 2016. Mustafa now runs his own non-profit in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to help connect newly resettled refugees with the local community.

Each year hundreds of thousands of people like Mustafa are forced to leave their countries in search of safety. Many refugees will spend years in exile, unable to return home because they fear for their safety. In 2019, more than 1.44 million refugees were in urgent need of resettlement worldwide and only a fraction of them - approximately 4.5 percent - were resettled.


Resettlement is the selection and movement of refugees from a country of asylum to a third country that has granted them permission to stay on the basis of long-term or permanent residence status. It is a solution that ensures refugees are protected against refoulment (forced return), provides them access to rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals and gives them an opportunity to eventually become citizens of the resettlement country.

The UN Refugee Agency works closely with its partners to identify the most vulnerable refugees with urgent protection risks, but the final decision to whether or not a refugee will be resettled in a country is the discretion of states.

But how does this process work in the United States? How long does it take? 

Here's what you need to know:


1. How does the resettlement process work in the U.S?

2. U.S. Resettlement Facts 2019-2020

3. Refugee resettlement admission numbers since 2009



1. The U.S. Resettlement Process

The United States conducts a rigorous vetting process to determine whether to accept a refugee for resettlement. The entire process takes approximately two years and involves the following steps:


2. U.S. Resettlement Facts 2019-2020


3. Refugee resettlement admission numbers since 2009

The United States has a long tradition of welcoming refugees, but its resettlement program has dwindled in recent years. The U.S. admitted nearly 110,000 refugees in 2017, but this number has been reduced to less than 20,000 refugees per year – the lowest cap since the creation of the U.S. refugee admissions program in 1980.


At a time of record forced displacement, the reduction of refugee admissions means that thousands of vulnerable refugees will be left in perilous situations, separated from their family members and without the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety.

How can you help resettled refugees in the U.S.?

USA for UNHCR supports the full journey of refugees resettling in the U.S. Not only do our donors help refugees in their greatest time of need, but their support builds awareness and empathy for resettled refugees living in the U.S. With your help, more refugees like Mustafa will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and give their family a bright future.





Feb 11 2020
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