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Refugees vs Asylees

Providing refuge to people who have a well founded fear of persecution in their home country is a humanitarian goal of the United States. This is achieved through two programs: one for refugees and one for asylum seekers. To be eligible, refugees and asylees must meet the requirements outlined in the Immigration and Nationality act: they must have a well founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion and are unable or unwilling to return to their home country. Refugees apply outside of the United States while asylees apply inside the United States or at a port of entry. Every year, the President and Congress establish admission ceilings for refugees, allocated by region. In 2013, the total admission ceiling was capped at 70,000 refugees with 31,000 allocated for the Near East/South Asia. Burma, Bhutan and Iraq have been leading countries of nationality for refugees in recent years. The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) identifies individuals and groups who are eligible for refugee resettlement and divides them into priority categories. The Priority One group is comprised of individuals who have been referred by the UNHCR, a US Embassy or an NGO while the Priority Two category consists of groups of special humanitarian concern and Priority Three is for family reunification cases. Once a candidate is referred, they must meet all eligibility requirements and are interviewed by a Resettlement Support Center and USCIS. If the applicant is approved after security checks are made, they undergo a medical exam and are assigned a sponsor- a resettlement organization that helps them find housing, employment and assists with the transition to the United States. After arriving in the United States, the refugee is authorized to work and may request documents to travel outside the country. After one year, refugees are required to apply for legal permanent residence status and after five years they are eligible to apply for US citizenship.

In contrast to refugees, asylees file their claims once they are in the United States. Like refugees though, asylum seekers must also have a well founded fear of persecution if they were to return to their home countries. Prior to January 1994, a person could file for asylum at any time after they had entered the country, but now asylum seekers have only one year to file their claim. The applicant then has an interview with a USCIS officer who assesses their credibility and determines if they are eligible for asylum. If the applicant receives asylum they are able to work in the United States and can receive certain public benefits. In 2012, 29,484 people were granted asylum in the United States and the leading countries of nationality for those granted asylum were China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Venezuela and Nepal.


“Refugees and Asylees: 2012”. Daniel C Martin and James E Yankay. April 2013."

“Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2013: Report to the Congress Summary”. Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center."


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