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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Updated: 
March 25, 2019

What are the benefits of having refugee status?

If your application is approved, you will be able to travel to the U.S. and enter the country with a valid visa. Also, with refugee status, you will be:

  • immediately able to work in the U.S., based on your Form I-94, which contains a refugee admission stamp. Also, you will later be granted work authorization through an Employment Authorization Document (EAD);1
  • 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.2 - You can find lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page to get legal advice about your situation.); and
  • able to apply to bring your spouse and unmarried minor children who are under the age of 21 to the U.S. within the first two years of being granted refugee status.3 Note: Unmarried minor children who are under the age of 21 could include:
    • a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18; and
    • an adopted child if:
      1. the adoption took place before the child turned 16 years old; or
      2. if the child has been in the legal custody or living with their adopting parents for at least two years.4

1 See USCIS website Refugees page
2 8 CFR § 209.1(a), (b); see U.S. Refugee Admissions Program FAQs
3 See U.S. Refugee Admissions Program FAQs
4 INA § 101(b)(1)(E)

Can my family members benefit from my refugee status?

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. Derivative refugee benefits mean that your spouse and 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 (for example, polygamous marriages) Unmarried minor children under the age of 21 could include:

  • an adopted child if the adoption took place before the child turned 16 years old; and
  • a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18.1

You can apply to bring your spouse and unmarried minor children to the U.S. within the first two years of being granted refugee status, which is known as sponsoring them.2 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.3

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

1 INA § 101(b)(1)(E)
2 See USCIS website
3 8 CFR § 207.7(d)

Can I become a lawful permanent resident if I hold refugee status? What are the requirements?

If you were admitted as a refugee, you are required by law to apply for a green card in the U.S. one year after being admitted as a refugee. A green card grants you lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. You may be eligible for a green card 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;
  • have not already acquired permanent resident status; and
  • are admissible to the U.S. for lawful permanent residence or eligible for forgiveness (a waiver) of inadmissibility1

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 to find the forms that must be filed. As with 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 - Immigration page.

1See USCIS website’s “Green Card for Refugees”