In order to qualify under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, a refugee normally must:

  • Be of a designated nationality and fall within the priority categories for that nationality in that region; or
  • Be outside their country of origin, unless authorized by the President;
  • Be referred by a U.S. embassy, UNHCR or a non-governmental organization (NGO); and
  • Meet the U.S. definition of refugee as determined by the DHS/USCIS;
  • Not be excludable under INA Section 212(a);
  • Have access to a U.S. refugee processing post or DHS/USCIS officer; and
  • Not be firmly resettled in any foreign country.
Designated nationalities are those nationalities the U.S. considers to be of particular concern for the U.S. resettlement program. Persons from these nationalities, and who fall in specific priorities, can be considered for resettlement at designated U.S. refugee processing posts without referral by UNHCR or an embassy. Non-designated nationalities must have a UNHCR, NGO or U.S. embassy referral to be considered for resettlement.

Priority Categories

Priority categories are used to determine a refugee's ties to the U.S. A refugee must fall under one of these categories to qualify for the U.S. Resettlement Program. The State Department defines the priority categories as follows:

Priority One: Individual Referrals
Available to persons of any nationality that are UNHCR-referred or designated NGO or Embassy-identified persons with compelling protection needs or those for whom no other durable solution exists.

Priority Two: Group Referrals
Available to groups of special concern to the U.S and defined by their particular nationalities, clans, ethnicities, religions, locations, or combination of such characteristics. These groups are identified by the Department of State in consultation with USCIS, NGOs, UNHCR, and other experts.

Priority Three: Family Reunification Cases
Available to designated nationalities of special humanitarian concern for the purpose of family-reunification. To qualify, an applicant must prove that they have an eligible familial relationship with a refugee in the U.S.

Grounds for exclusion

There are certain grounds for exclusion of of refugees to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Learn about them here.