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Screening of Refugees

The Brief

This is one of three blog posts explaining the current vetting process for different groups of immigrant and nonimmigrant foreign persons seeking entry into the United States. Read our posts on Legal Permanent Residents and Nonimmigrant Visas.

Refugees are individuals forced to flee their country to escape imminent danger caused by war or natural disaster.

Refugees must seek admission to the United States from abroad, and thus differ from applicants for asylum who are already present in the United States or attempting to obtain admission at a port of entry and seek protection. In FY 2016, the U.S. admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, half of whom came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Burma.

Refugees are screened more closely than any other category of immigrant entering the United States. The vetting process for refugee status applicants coordinates information collection and referencing across a variety of federal agencies to ensure that those being admitted are not actors hostile to the United States. In all, the refugee process takes approximately two years, as the United States no longer has an “immediate sanctuary” program that allows refugees to enter before all checks are complete.

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Refugee Screening Process:

  1. Refugee applicants are first vetted abroad by the United Nations Refugee Agency, which conducts in-depth interviews, home country reference checks, and collects biographic and biometric information. Applicants that pass these checks are referred to the Resettlement Support Center (RSC).

  2. RSC interviews applicants to confirm their identity, nationality, and eligibility for admission to the United States as refugees and collects biometrics for identity and database checks.

  3. Applicants are further vetted by the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (or CLASS), which connects to terrorism and criminal databases, and the higher-level Security Advisory Opinion. Interagency security checks compare databases for any concerns. The FBI and Department of Defense also run checks against their databases. The full security screening process involves several agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Defense.

  4. Syrian applicants are given extra scrutiny under the Syria Enhanced Review. Specialists are assigned to conduct additional database research before the applicant is interviewed.

  5. DHS interviews applicants to confirm data accuracy, ensure no security concerns, and make a final decision on whether or not the applicant qualifies for refugee status.

  6. Applicants undergo a medical examination for public health concerns.

  7. Applicants complete a cultural orientation course regarding American culture, customs, and practices. At this stage, they are assigned to a voluntary agency to connect the refugee to a local organization to help them settle upon arrival.

  8. Results of cultural orientation course and medical examination entered into applicant database.

  9. One final security check is conducted to ensure that no new security concerns have arisen.

  10. If any stage brings up any concern, the process is halted until the concern is addressed to the government’s satisfaction. If not cleared, no one is approved for travel.

  11. Once applicants pass required screenings, they are informed of resettlement location.

  12. Applicants receive travel arrangement and support services to help introduce them to new communities. Upon arrival, refugees are again screened to confirm their identity.

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