Refugees/Aslyees in the United States


A refugee, per international refugee law is one who seeks refuge in a foreign country because of war and violence, or out of fear of persecution in his/her country. The United States recognizes persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group” as grounds/requirements from those seeking asylum.

The person is referred to as an asylum seeker until a request for refuge has been accepted and approved. Only after the asylum seeker’s protection needs are recognized, he/she is officially referred to as a refugee and enjoys refugee status, which carries certain rights and obligations per the legislation of the receiving country.

The President of the United States will send a proposal every year to the Congress about the maximum number of refugees that can be admitted into the US for the coming fiscal year, per the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) specifications. This number is also known as the “refugee ceiling”. Every year, there is a debate as refugee advocates seek to raise the number whereas anti-immigration groups want to reduce it. Whatever the outcome or claims may be, once proposed, the refugee ceiling is normally accepted without any substantial Congressional debate.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there was a substantial disruption and confusion to the processing of resettlement claims with admission numbers falling to about 26,000 in the year 2002. All claims for refugee status were double checked for any suspicious activity and stringent procedures were adopted to detect any possible terrorist infiltration to the US.

Given the ease with which foreigners can otherwise legally enter the US, entering through the refugee classification is comparatively unlikely. The number of admitted refugees increased in the following years with the refugee ceiling for the fiscal year 2006 fixed at 70,000. These numbers however are still among the lowest in 30 years.

Benefits of Being in Asylee Status :

Once asylum is granted, the asylee can legally live and work in the US and will later be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence and citizenship. However, an important factor to consider is that asylum is not a permanent, guaranteed status for life in the US. So it is essential for asylees to apply for lawful permanent residence one year from the date on which they were granted asylum. On an asylee status, you automatically become eligible to work in the US and do not need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which otherwise is generally required.

After being granted asylum, for the first seven years, you qualify for Social Security Income, Medicaid, and Food Stamps, and a combination of other benefits and services. At times, eligibility for many of these programs may be extended past the first seven years.

In addition to administering benefits programs and providing general public benefits counseling, agencies conduct English classes, employment training and placement programs, mental health programs, youth and elderly services, and referrals to other social service agencies.

Most other foreign nationals who apply for lawful permanent residence have to prove that they are not likely to become a public charge, but asylees need not satisfy this requirement. They can receive government financial benefits without jeopardizing their chances of getting permanent residence or green card in the US.The person is referred to as an asylum seeker until a request for refugee has been accepted and approved.

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