- Who is a refugee?
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the main immigration law of the United States, states that a refugee is “any person who is outside of the country of such person’s nationality , or, if the person has no nationality, is outside any country where this person last habitually resided , and who is now unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
In simple terms, the U.S. considers you are a refugee if you have left your country of origin and are unable or unwilling to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
In some circumstances, specified by the President, a refugee may be inside the country of his/her nationality or habitual residence.
- How can a person who thinks he fits this definition apply for refugee status?
First, such a person needs to find out if he is eligible to apply for refugee status. To learn who is eligible and how the application process works, go to Who Gets Resettled?
- Can refugees bring their relatives to the U.S. after (s)he has arrived in the U.S.?
Spouses and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of a refugee are eligible for derivative refugee or asylum status, regardless of whether they are located in another country or are physically present in the U.S.. The refugee must submit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Form I-730 within two years of the date of entry as a refugee.
- Does refugee status expire?
No. Refugee status is granted indefinitely and has no expiration date. However, refugees are required to apply for permanent resident status (a green card) a year after living in the U.S. in refugee status.
- Can I become an America citizen if I am a refugee?
Yes, but first you need to apply for and be granted permanent residence (also known as a “green card,” see Permanent Residence/Green Cards for more information). After receiving a green card, a refugee or asylee can then apply for naturalization when they become eligible, which is five years after the date stated on the green card. (See Naturalization for more information).