The U.S. refugee vetting process is long and challenging. The vetting process refers to the steps a refugee follows after fleeing from his or her home country and resettling in the United States.

The process begins when a refugee flees his or her home country. Refugees flee their country of origin for various reasons.

After fleeing, a refugee usually registers with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR verifies that under international law, this particular person qualifies for refugee status.

Next, the UNHCR refers the individual to a U.S. Embassy with a Refugee Processing Post. The Department of State then steps in. Many different security checks take place through different federal security agencies. A refugee undergoes more screening than any other type of traveler coming into the country.

The Department of State also has a Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration that partners with different agencies. One of the agencies that the bureau partners with will create a document called an Overseas Processing Entity. This document is given to an officer within the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The officer then interviews the refugee to determine whether or not the person legally qualifies as a refugee and can be admitted for resettlement within the U.S.

Once it is determined whether or not the individual qualifies as a refugee under U.S. law, the case returns to the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration for the final stage of approval. The refugee’s information is then forwarded to the Refugee Processing Center.

The Refugee Processing Center requests “sponsorship assurance” from one of the many refugee resettlement agencies across the country. While these last steps of the U.S. refugee vetting process take place, the refugee will be given a medical exam. He or she also receives a cultural orientation to life in the United States. Upon medical clearance,the International Organization for Migration will book a flight for the refugee.

The refugee will be met at the airport upon arrival in the United States. Now, everything becomes the responsibility of refugee resettlement agencies. A resettlement agency will have already arranged accommodation for the refugee. A staff member of a local resettlement agency will meet the refugee at the airport and take them to the accommodations. Once in the United States, refugees can take classes to learn English and find work.

The U.S. refugee vetting process is slow. Depending on the situation, the process can take anywhere between a year and a half to two years. In 2016, however, 84,995 refugees were resettled in the United States. The vetting process may be long and complicated, but the ability to resettle in the United States has changed the lives of thousands.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr