U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is an inter-agency effort involving a number of governmental and non-governmental partners, both overseas and domestically, whose mission is to resettle refugees in the United States. The U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) has overall management responsibility for the USRAP and has the lead in proposing admissions numbers and processing priorities. Within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has responsibility for interviewing refugee applicants and adjudicating applications for refugee status. Through its cooperative agreements with Overseas Processing Entities (OPE), PRM handles the intake of refugee referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and U.S. embassies, certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the prescreening of cases and the out-processing of individuals for travel to the United States.
Iraqi Refugee Processing
Part of the refugee program’s important humanitarian mission is to offer resettlement opportunities to especially vulnerable Iraqi refugees. Since large-scale Iraqi refugee processing was announced in February 2007, DHS and DOS have worked cooperatively to increase the number of Iraqi refugees admitted as part of the worldwide commitment. DHS and DOS have been committed to streamlining the process for admitting Iraqi refugees to the U.S. while ensuring the highest level of security. DHS and DOS share responsibility for initiating security checks for Iraqi refugee applicants.
As a result of this collaboration, the USRAP has surpassed its goal of resettling 12,000 Iraqi refugees during Fiscal Year 2008. As of today, 12,118 Iraqis have been admitted to the United States as refugees. This is a very significant increase over the 1,600 Iraqis admitted last year. In order to meet the goal, DHS deployed over 150 staff in the Middle East; interviewing over 23,000 Iraqi refugee applicants.
Process for Resettlement
In identifying Iraqi cases for referral to the USRAP, UNHCR and DOS have been prioritizing eleven categories of especially vulnerable refugees, including individuals who are affiliated with the U.S. Government and religious minorities, among others.
Iraqi refugees may gain access to this program through referrals from UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or certain NGOs. Iraqi applicants who worked for the U.S. government, a U.S. contractor, or a U.S.-based media organization or NGO, and their family members, can apply directly without a UNHCR referral in Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. In addition, Iraqi applicants will be considered for resettlement if an eligible family member applies on their behalf in the United States. The vast majority of cases processed so far by the USRAP have been referrals from UNHCR.
USCIS officers are interviewing Iraqi refugee applicants primarily in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon. In addition, DOS and DHS have begun refugee processing in Iraq for certain Iraqis who are associated with the U.S., and their family members.
Determining Eligibility for Refugees
Eligibility for refugee status is decided on a case-by-case basis. A USCIS officer conducts a personal interview of the applicant designed to elicit information about the applicant's admissibility and claim for refugee status. During the interview, the officer confirms the basic biographical data of the applicant; verifies that the applicant was properly given access to the USRAP; determines whether the applicant has suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of future persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.