Post Arrival Assistance and Benefits
(a) Private Resettlement Agency Assistance
Refugees arriving in the U.S. are placed with one of the private resettlement agencies that have signed a Cooperative Agreement with the State Department. These agencies generally have local affiliates throughout the U.S. The affiliates are responsible for assuring that a core group of services are provided during the first 30-90 days after a refugee's arrival, including food, housing, clothing, employment services, follow-up medical care, and other necessary services. There are approximately 350 affiliates throughout the United States.
Affiliates often work with relatives or others who have filed sponsorship papers (Affidavit of Relationship) to prepare for the refugees' arrival. Such sponsors will be responsible for assisting the agency with a refugee's resettlement. Sponsors may be relatives or friends of the refugee. In some instances voluntary agencies will accept refugees who do not have a sponsoring relative or friend. These are usually referred to as "free cases." For free cases an agency often locates an individual, a church, or other group willing to undertake sponsorship of the refugee. In some cases, the agency itself will act as the refugee sponsor.
Click here for a list of resettlement agency affiliates.
(b) Public Assistance
The Cash and Medical Assistance (CMA) Program is part of the Division of Refugee Assistance at the Office of Refugee Resettlement. CMA reimburses states for 100 percent of services provided to refugees and other eligible persons, as well as associated administrative costs. Programs eligible for reimbursement include:
•Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)
•Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA)
•Unaccompanied Refugee Minors
ORR clients determined ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid may be eligible for RCA and RMA for up to eight months from the date of arrival in the U.S., date of final grant of asylum for asylees and date of certification for trafficking victims.
Refugees may apply for RCA and/or RMA in their state of residence within eight months from the date of arrival. CMA also reimburses medical screening costs to identify and treat contagious diseases and medical conditions.
State programs for administering CMA and other forms of state assistance for refugees vary by state; there are state administered programs, public-private partnerships, and Wilson-Fish programs. For more information on the type of state program in each state, visit the Office of Refuge Resettlement State Programs Annual Overview map.
In FY 1998, new laws and regulations went into effect that prohibit immigrants from receiving many forms of federally funded public benefits, until such time as they become US citizens. Refugees, however, are excluded from this prohibition for the first seven years after arrival. After seven years, however, refugees will be unable to receive most benefits unless they have acquired US citizenship.
All refugees under the age of 18 years old may attend public primary or secondary schools free of charge. Refugees have the same access to university education as US citizens and permanent residents, however, in most states there are tuition charges for public universities.
(d) Employment Benefits
All refugees are entitled to receive authorization for employment. They are protected by civil rights legislation and cannot be discriminated in the workplace. They are not eligible, however, to work for the federal government (except in US armed forces) until they become US citizens.
(e) Immigration Benefits
(i) Travel Documents
Refugees are eligible to leave the US for up to one year provided they have obtained a refugee travel document from USCIS. Travel documents are valid for one year. Refugees who leave the US without first obtaining a travel document may apply for a travel document abroad. However, the refugee still must return to the US within one year of his/her departure. It is strongly recommended that refugees obtain the refugee travel document prior to leaving the US.
(ii) Adjustment of Status
One year after arrival refugees are eligible to adjust their status to permanent resident. Five years after arrival they can petition for naturalization, provided they have adjusted status to permanent resident during this time and have continuously resided in the US for five years prior to petitioning for naturalization. Adjustment of status and naturalization takes place at the DHS/USCIS District Office covering the refugees residence.
(iii) Family Reunification
Immediate family members of refugees have US refugee status on a derivative basis. This is referred to as the Visa 93 procedure; that is, a spouse or any unmarried minor child of a refugee receives refugee status automatically provided that the relationship existed prior to the entry of the refugee into the US. The spouse, parents, unmarried sons and daughters of persons with legal status in the US, who were initially admitted as refugees or granted asylum in the US, are eligible for family reunion, if the nationality is designated for priority three processing. However, unlike the Visa 93 process, persons in the Priority-3 category have to be interviewed by DHS/USCIS and meet the US definition on their own. They do not receive refugee status on a derivative basis. It should be noted that parents, spouse, and unmarried children of US citizens, are NOT eligible for US refugee status. They must enter the US through normal immigration mechanisms.
Photo credits: EMM