New Video: Refugee Resettlement 101

We hope you enjoy this information-packed overview of the refugee resettlement process, released in honor of World Refugee Day 2016.


A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their home, due to fear of war, persecution, or natural disaster. Today, there are about 60 million displaced people, the highest number since WWII.

First, refugees must find their way to a refugee camp. Many camps are heavily guarded and surrounded by barbed wire. Most camps are operated by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The number of people in refugee camps today is about 20 million. In some camps, the average wait time is 25 years. That means, people are born, raised, and build families in these camps.

Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled in a third country. Officials from UNHCR interview families and only those who can prove they are escaping persecution and are unable to return home are registered as refugees. The UNHCR refers a refugee to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

The Resettlement Support Center (RSC) helps families go through the application process. This includes collecting biographical information, as well as a health screening. Multiple intelligence agencies also work together to produce a full background check of each applicant. Once approved, refugees sign a travel loan, agreeing to pay back the cost of their plane ticket and are assigned to a local resettlement agency. The resettlement agency meets families at the airport, and helps them with basic needs for up to 90 days.

Refugees are authorized to work and are expected to find immediate employment. In San Diego County, families with children are immediately referred to the County for public assistance. They cover their own costs of living with limited cash aid for up to 48 months, Food Stamps, Medicaid and Medicare, and employment services for up to 60 months.

Families without children are provided employment and acculturation services for up to 60 months and just eight months of limited cash assistance to cover housing costs. Singles without children are eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps.

After one year, refugees are required to apply to become Permanent Residents (Green Card holders). After five years, they are eligible to apply for U.S. Citizenship.

Over time, refugees contribute to our economy. According to the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, our country’s net gain from immigration is $37 billion per year, and Immigrant-owned businesses generated $331 million dollars in net income to Minnesota in 2000, revitalizing distressed neighborhoods.