Learn about refugee resettlement in the U.S.

Learn who can be resettled in the United States and what benefits resettled refugees get. Know what to expect before, during, and after resettlement to the USA. 

Updated March 16, 2024

What is refugee resettlement?

Refugee resettlement is a form of protection that allows certain refugees to move to a safe third country permanently. Many countries around the world accept refugees for resettlement like the USA, Canada, and Germany. 

It is important to know that only a very small number of refugees are ever resettled. In 2023, the United States resettled just over 60,000 refugees. During this period, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 36.4 million refugees worldwide.

Resettlement in the USA

Refugee resettlement comes with different benefits in each country. If you qualify for refugee resettlement in the USA, you can:

  • Get a loan to travel and stay in the USA legally 
  • Get help with basic needs and finding a job when you first arrive
  • Legally work in the USA
  • Get a Social Security card 
  • Apply for travel documents
  • Apply to bring your spouse and children to the USA 
  • Apply for a Green Card after 1 year 
  • Apply for citizenship after 5 years 

Being registered as a refugee does not mean you will be accepted into the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Only a small number of refugees each year are admitted to the USA. These benefits are only available to people who have gone through all stages of approval with the U.S. government. 

Who can apply for resettlement in the USA? 

1. You must have refugee status. You will need to register with the UNHCR in the country you have fled to. UNHCR or a partner organization will interview you to decide whether you qualify. Each country has a different procedure. 

A refugee is someone who has left their home country due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Persecution can include serious physical or emotional harm, torture, detention, and threats. 

Refugee status protects you from deportation to your home country. Having refugee status does not mean you are automatically eligible for resettlement. In most places, you cannot apply for resettlement by yourself.

If you are already in the United States, you can not apply for refugee status. You may be able to apply for asylum.

2. You must be referred for resettlement. UNHCR refers certain refugees for permanent resettlement in the United States. U.S. embassies, certain nongovernmental organizations, and private sponsor groups can also refer refugees for resettlement to the USA. 

UNHCR considers the most vulnerable refugees who need immediate protection for resettlement:

  • Survivors of violence and torture   
  • Physical protection needs
  • Women and girls at risk
  • Children at risk

3. You must meet specific United States rules. The USA sets its own requirements for refugees it will admit for resettlement. You must:

  • Fear persecution in your home country
  • Be outside of the United States
  • Have not already resettled in another country
  • Have not committed certain crimes or are considered a threat to U.S. safety or security

The United States accepts refugees for resettlement based on 3 processing priorities:

  • Priority 1: Referrals by the UNHCR, U.S. embassies, certain qualified NGOs, and private sponsor groups. Individual refugees are referred for resettlement based on their needs in their current country. 
  • Priority 2: Referrals by the Department of State. This is for refugees from specific countries.
  • Priority 3: Family reunification cases. Refugees and SIVs in the USA can ask a resettlement agency to apply to certain family members. s

You do not have to pay for your resettlement case to be processed or for any support services. You do not have to move near anyone to access resettlement. Report anyone who asks you for money or claims they will expedite your application to your Refugee Service Center.

What is the process for resettlement in the USA? 

The refugee resettlement process is very complex and takes approximately 2 years in most cases. Visit to learn about what to expect during each step of the resettlement process. Information is available in many languages.



  • The UNHCR, a U.S. embassy, an NGO, or a private sponsor group must refer you for resettlement to the U.S. Your case must be approved by the U.S. government through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). 
  • You do not have to pay money for your case to be referred for resettlement. If anyone asks you for money, you should report them.
  • If you want to be matched with a private sponsor group, talk to staff at your Resettlement Support Center (RSC). Find more information about the refugee sponsorship program.


  • A Resettlement Support Center (RSC) will interview you and collect your biographic information for security checks. Usually, you will have at least 2 interviews with resettlement support staff. These interviews are to assess your refugee claim and to check that everything is accurate. 
  • You must be honest and consistent in your answers. It is better to say you do not know or you do not remember than to make up an answer.  
  • If you are referred to the U.S. resettlement program, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer will interview you to find out if you qualify for refugee status and resettlement in the U.S. They will collect your photo and fingerprints to run background and security checks.   
  • Contact your RSC for questions about the status of your refugee resettlement application. 


  • If you are approved, you will go through a medical screening to make sure you are fit for travel. 
  • You will be assigned to a nonprofit resettlement agency or private sponsor group in the U.S. to assist you upon arrival. You do not have to pay to be matched to a resettlement agency or private sponsor. 
  • You will take a cultural orientation class giving you an overview of what to expect in the USA. You will learn about your rights and responsibilities, culture, housing, work, education, healthcare, money, and transportation. 
  • The Resettlement Support Center will work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to arrange your travel to the USA. You will get a loan to pay for your flight to the USA.


Where can I find help? 

If you are looking for help outside the USA, these international organizations provide resources and support for refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR also has information for refugees in 50+ countries.

If you are in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Guatemala, you can get free help applying for refugee resettlement to the USA. The referral and screening process at Safe Mobility Offices (SMOs) in Latin America is different from other places around the world.

What if I do not qualify for refugee resettlement

Refugee resettlement is one pathway to protection in the USA. There may be other options if you do not qualify for the refugee resettlement program. 

If you are outside the United States, you may be eligible to apply for:

If you are inside the United States, you may be eligible to apply for:

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If you are a refugee in the USA, you can find services to help you.

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The information on this page comes from USCIS, Settle In, and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.