services upon arrival

Resettlement Agency Assistance

Photo Credit: EMM

Photo Credit: EMM

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 have local affiliates throughout the U.S.  The affiliates are responsible for assuring that a core group of services, funded by the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program, 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.  Services after this time are funded through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

Other vulnerable populations are also eligible for some services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement, including asylees, Cuban parolees, Cuban and Haitian entrants, special immigrant visa holders, survivors of torture, unaccompanied children, unaccompanied refugee minors, and victims of human trafficking. Learn more here.

When refugees are resettled near family members already in the U.S., affiliates often work with these relatives to prepare for the refugees' arrival and help the refugee settle into their new lives.  In addition to family members, other people in local communities provide tremendous support and welcome for refugees, complementing the work of the resettlement agencies.  Read more about how communities welcome refugees. 

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), and the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program.

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 a refugee’s date of arrival in the U.S., the date of the 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 Refugee Resettlement State Programs Annual Overview Map.


All refugees under the age of 18 years, and some above, may attend public primary or secondary schools free of charge. Refugees have the same access to university education as U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Employment Benefits

All refugees are are employment authorized and entitled to work.  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 U.S. armed forces) until they become U.S. citizens.

Immigration Benefits

Travel Documents
Refugees are eligible to leave the U.S. for up to one year provided they have obtained a refugee travel document from USCIS, which are valid for one year. Refugees who leave the U.S. without first obtaining a travel document may apply for a travel document abroad. However, the refugee still must return to the U.S. within one year of his/her departure. It is strongly recommended that refugees obtain the refugee travel document prior to leaving the U.S.

Adjustments of Status – Legal Permanent Resident & Citizenship
One year after arrival refugees must adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), and five years after arrival, if they have obtained LPR status and continuously resided in the US for five years, they can apply for citizenship.  Adjustment of status and naturalization takes place at the DHS/USCIS District Office covering the refugee's residence.

Family Reunification

Photo Credit: ECDC

Photo Credit: ECDC

Within two years of arrival in the U.S or of being granted asylees status, a refugee, via Visa 93, or asylee, via Visa 92, is eligible to apply to bring his or her spouse and/or unmarried children under 21 years old who reside in another country to the U.S. The relationships must have existed prior to the refugee’s entry to the U.S. These family members do not need to have a claim of persecution and would derive refugee status from the family member in the U.S.  This is referred to as the Visa 93 procedure

Within five years of arrival to the U.S., a refugee or asylee of a designated nationality is eligible to apply to bring his or her spouse, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents (and their unmarried children under 21 years old) to the U.S. This is the family-based Priority 3 category, used to determine a refugee's ties to the US refugee designation.  These family members must have a claim of persecution and do not derive refugee status from the refugee or asylee in the U.S.

Parents, spouses, and unmarried children of U.S. citizens, are not eligible for U.S. refugee status and may enter the US through normal immigration mechanisms.