Frequently Asked Questions

Photo credit: Jeri Gravlin Photo credit: Jeri Gravlin

FAQs about Refugees & Refugee Resettlement

Who are refugees?

Refugees are men, women and children who have fled their countries of origin as a result of political instability, armed conflict, or other acts of violence. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?

Refugees have been forced to leave their countries as a result of a “well-founded fear of persecution”, while immigrants voluntarily leave their countries of origin to reside in another country.

How many refugees are there in the world?

According to the World Refugee Survey 2009, close to 14 million people are refugees and asylum seekers, unable or unwilling to return to their native countries and in need of protection. Nearly half of those refugees are from the Middle East. Another twenty percent are in Africa, with yet another twenty percent in South and Central Asia. Large refugee populations today include Iraqis, Burmese, Bhutanese, and Somalis. Women and children make up eighty percent of the world’s refugee population.

What are the accepted solutions to the plight of refugees?

Most refugees return to their countries of origin when conditions permit, often called “voluntary repatriation.” If voluntary repatriation is not possible due to unstable country conditions or the continued threat of persecution, some refugees are able to remain in a country of first asylum. Unfortunately, many host countries are unable to accept refugee permanently. For many refugees, resettlement in a third country, such as the United States, is the best and only alternative.

How many refugees does the United States accept for resettlement?

Each year, the President, in consultation with the Congress, determines the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States. Unfortunately, the government’s commitment to refugee resettlement has been steadily eroded. While the world refugee population has remained between 12-15 million from the 1990’s to date, the United States’ admissions levels have steadily declined from a high of 142,000 in fiscal year 1993 to 80,000 for fiscal year 2010. In addition, the number of refugees actually admitted for resettlement has consistently failed to meet the authorized levels. Between 1991 and 2006, over 195,000 slots were left unfilled.

How does a refugee qualify for resettlement in the United States?

To qualify for refugee resettlement in the United States, a person must come from a country or belong to a group designated by the US Department of State. Individuals must meet the definition of a refugee by proving that he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution. Officers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conduct interviews around the world to identify individuals eligible for permanent resettlement in the United States. Once approved, eligible refugees undergo thorough medical and security screenings prior to their arrival.

What happens to refugees once they arrive in the U.S.?

Many refugees come to the United States without personal possessions or existing contacts. Other refugees come to the US to be reunited with family members. All refugees receive time-limited assistance from the US government and designated non-profit organizations. The International Rescue Committee is one of ten private national agencies that work with the federal government to help refugees integrate into American society and become self-sufficient. IRC helps refugees find housing, acclimate to American customs and laws, secure jobs, learn English, and become US citizens. Each year, IRC assists approximately 5,000-10,000 men, women, and children start new lives in thirteen states and the District of Columbia.

How long do refugees remain in the United States?

Refugees are entitled to refugee status for one year after arrival. After one year, refugees are eligible to become legal permanent residents. Five years after the date of their arrival in the United States, refugees may apply for their American citizenship. Each day, refugees make significant contributions to their new communities, as dedicated employees, students, and parents who want the best for their children.

For more information see IRC’s website at or contact us at 801-328-1091.