En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws:

UPDATED May 21, 2013

View by Section

If you are a non-U.S. citizen living outside of the U.S. and you are afraid to return to your home country due to a fear of persecution (mistreatment/abuse), you might be eligible for refugee status, which would allow you to come to the U.S. legally.

Basic information

back to topWho is eligible for refugee status? Where is refugee status granted?

Refugee status may be granted to someone who:

  • is outside of his/her country of nationality (and outside of the U.S.);
  • is of special humanitarian concern to the United States;
  • Is not firmly resettled in another country; and
  • is unable or unwilling to return to, or to get protection from, his/her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on one or more of the following:
    • race,
    • religion,
    • nationality,
    • membership in a particular social group, or
    • political opinion.*
The refugee status is granted in an American consulate or Embassy outside of the U.S.  The refugee enters the U.S. with a “Refugee status” in his/her I-94 card (Arrival/Departure Record).

* INA §101(a)(42)(A); see USCIS website

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhen should I apply for refugee status?

You have to apply for refugee status before coming to the U.S.  If you are already in the U.S., you would apply for asylum instead. Go to our Asylum page for more information.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow do I apply for refugee status?

You must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee.  For more information on the referral criteria, see the “USRAP Consultations and Worldwide Processing Priorities” on the USCIS website.  If you receive a referral, you will receive help filling out your application and then be interviewed abroad by a USCIS officer who will determine whether or not you are eligible for refugee resettlement in the U.S.*

* See the USCIS website

Did you find this information helpful?

Benefits of getting refugee status

back to topWhat are the benefits of having refugee status?

If the application is approved, the refugee will be able to travel to the U.S. and enter the country with a valid visa.  Also, the refugee will have the following benefits - s/he will be:

  • Immediately able to work in the US, based on his/her Form I-94, which contains a refugee admission stamp.  Also, s/he will later be granted work authorization through an Employment Authorization Document (EAD);*
  • Eligible for adjustment of status (applying for legal permanent residency/green card) after one year of being granted the refugee status. (Note: In fact, the law says that refugees are required to submit an application for permanent residence one year after entry** - please talk to a lawyer for more information on this); and
  • Able to sponsor her/his spouse and unmarried minor children within the first two years of being granted refugee status.*** Note: Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include an adopted child (if the adoption meets the requirements in INA § 101(b)(1)(E)) and a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18.****
* See USCIS website
** 8 CFR § 209.1(a),(b); see USCIS website
*** See USCIS website
**** INA § 101(b)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan my family members benefit from my refugee status?

Yes.  If you have already been granted refugee status, you may apply for derivative refugee benefits for your spouse or unmarried minor children if they are accompanying you or plan to join you.  This means that your spouse and/or children may be granted refugee status based on your own refugee status.

To meet the definition of spouse, you need to be legally married according to your home country’s law.  However, the U.S. will not recognize some legal marriages, even if those can be considered legal marriages in your home country (i.e., gay marriages, polygamous marriages, etc.)    Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include an adopted child (if the adoption meets the requirements in INA § 101(b)(1)(E)) and a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18.*

You can sponsor your spouse and unmarried minor children within the first two years of being granted refugee status.**  You may sponsor your family members whether they are in the U.S or overseas but the request may only be filed by the principal refugee.*** 

For more information and requirements about bringing over family members of refugees, please see the USCIS website's page, Family of Refugees & Asylees.

* INA § 101(b)(1)
** See USCIS website
*** 8 CFR § 207.7(d)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan I become a lawful permanent resident if I hold refugee status? What are the requirements?

Yes.  If you were admitted as a refugee, you are required by law to apply for a green card (permanent residence) in the United States one year after being admitted as a refugee if you:

  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after being granted refugee status;
  • Have not had your refugee admission terminated; and
  • Have not already acquired permanent resident (green card) status.*
In order to file for adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident, there are many forms that you need to file.  Go to the USCIS website here and scroll down to the section called “Supporting Evidence For Form I-485” to read the long list of documents that must be filed.  As in any other immigration proceeding, it is always recommended to speak with a lawyer who can help you to file the correct documents. To find a lawyer, please go to the Finding a Lawyer page and select your state or our National Organizations - International/ Immigration page.

* See USCIS website's “Green Card for a Refugee”

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top