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Understanding the United States’ refugee and asylum program

Next year, the United States expects to welcome as many as 8,000 refugees from Syria. According to a recent report from CNS News, roughly 15,000 refugees have been referred to this country in the hopes of escaping persecution. So far, millions of people have fled Syria due to an outbreak of civil war. The U.S. Department of the State says it plans to lead the world in the number of Syrians who resettle in another country.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ humanitarian program for refugees and asylum grants protection to people who meet certain standards. For example, a refugee is someone who is outside the country of his or her nationality and cannot or will not return for fear of persecution based on his or her nationality, religion, race or political opinion. These people are considered “of special interest” to the United States.

Someone who seeks asylum must fit the following qualifications: 

  •        Must be in the United States
  •        Must be seeking admission to the country through a port of entry
  •        Must meet the definition of a refugee

The difference between refugee and asylum is especially important for those filing an application. Someone may only request refugee status if he or she is outside the United States. Someone seeking asylum must be in the United States.

A refugee must be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and his or her case could include a spouse, children and, in some cases, other family members. Someone who is eligible for asylum must fill out the appropriate paperwork with the USCIS within a year of arriving in the country. Taking the appropriate steps can ensure that someone who has fled his or her country can safely live in the U.S.

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