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Legal Information: Federal


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Laws current as of June 17, 2024

Am I eligible for refugee status? Where would I apply?

You may be eligible for refugee status if all of the following apply:

  1. You are outside of your country of nationality;
  2. You are outside of the U.S.;
  3. You fear persecution in your home country based on your:
    • race;
    • religion;
    • nationality;
    • political opinion; or
    • membership in a “particular social group;” and
  4. You are either:
    • not barred from getting status by the “grounds of inadmissibility;” or
    • you qualify for a waiver that would excuse (waive) any “inadmissibility” barriers you face.1

Those who fear persecution must get a referral from the United States Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP), which is usually done by a U.S. embassy abroad, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with refugees, or by the office of the United National High Commissioner on Refugees, often for those in refugee “camps.” You will receive help filling out your application and be interviewed, while abroad, by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer. The officer will determine whether or not you are eligible for refugee resettlement in the U.S.2

If you get refugee status, the agency working with you will help you fill out a form that allows you to enter the U.S. You will, again, be “inspected” by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you enter the U.S. and a Resettlement Support Center will help you and your family get accustomed to the U.S.

1 INA § 101(a)(42)(A); 8 USC § 1101(a)(42)(A) (definition of refugee); see also INA § 212; 8 USC § 1182 (inadmissibility)
2 See the USCIS website

Can I apply for refugee status while I am in the U.S.?

You have to apply for refugee status before coming to the U.S. If you are already in the U.S. and you fear going back to your home country, you would apply for asylum instead. Go to our Asylum page for more information.

What are "grounds of inadmissibility"?

Most people who want to enter the U.S. or get legal status in the U.S. must show that they are not barred by a long set of rules called the “grounds of inadmissibility.”1 This is also true for refugees when they apply for refugee status, when they are “inspected” by Customs and Border Patrol to come into the U.S. as a refugee, and when they apply for lawful permanent residence. Not all of the rules apply to refugees, however.2 These rules are very complicated and your lawyer will need to know what the immigration courts and federal courts have said about them to answer the government’s questions correctly.

If one of the “grounds of admissibility” applies to you, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider the pros and cons of your application to decide whether or not to excuse (waive) the inadmissibility ground by granting you a waiver.3 If USCIS denies you a waiver, they will deny your case. If you are in the U.S., they may put you into immigration proceedings, which may result in your deportation. This is one main reason you must work with an immigration lawyer or advocate who knows about refugee status and lawful permanent residence when applying.

1 See INA § 212; 8 USC § 1182
2 INA §§ 207(c)(3); 209(a)(2), (c); 8 USC §§ 1157(c)(3); 1159(a)(2), (c)
3 INA §§ 207(c)(3); 209(c); 8 USC §§ 1157(c)(3); 1159(c)