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Legal Information: Federal


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Laws current as of June 17, 2024

What are the benefits of having refugee status?

If your application is approved, you will be able to travel to the U.S. and enter the country legally.

Also, with refugee status, you will be able to work legally in the U.S.

After one year of being in refugee status in the U.S., you are required to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”).2 After five years with a green card, you may decide to apply for U.S. citizenship.

If you didn’t include your family in your refugee application, you can apply to bring your spouse and unmarried children under 21 to the U.S. within the first two years of entering the U.S. as a refugee.1 “Children under 21” can include step-children and adopted children, but the rules about who may be included and what evidence to show are complicated.3

1 See USCIS website
2 8 CFR § 209.1
3 See INA § 101(b); 8 USC § 1101(b)

How can my family members benefit from my refugee status?

When you ask for refugee status, you can ask that some of your immediate family members also get refugee status as “derivatives” of your application.1 You must do this within the first two years of being granted refugee status.2 You can include your spouse and children who are unmarried and who were under 21 when you filed your application. Included in the definition of “children” are step-children and adopted children, but the rules are complicated as to who may be included and how to apply.​3

Your family members must show that the special barriers to status known as the grounds of inadmissibility do not apply to them, or you must ask that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services excuse (waive) any barriers that do apply to them.4

In addition, when you file for lawful permanent residence after being in the U.S. as a refugee for one year, you can also apply for your family members to get lawful permanent residence.5

1 INA § 207(c)(2); 8 USC § 1157(c)(2)
2 See USCIS website; 8 CFR 208.21(c), (d)
3 INA § 101(b)(1)(E); 8 USC § 1101(b)
4 INA § 207(c)(3); 8 USC § 1157(c)(3)
5 See USCIS website

How can I apply for lawful permanent residence once I am a refugee?

If you are in the U.S. in refugee status, you are required by law to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) one year after you enter the U.S. To get lawful permanent residence, all of the following must be true:

  • You have not lost your refugee status;
  • You have been physically inside the U.S. for at least one year after you came in as a refugee; and
  • You are not barred from getting status by the “grounds of inadmissibility” or you ask USCIS to excuse (waive) any “inadmissibility” barriers you face​.1

It is easy to file the wrong forms, incomplete forms, or put the wrong information in the forms, so you should work with a lawyer who can help you file. To find a lawyer, please go to the Finding a Lawyer page and select your state or our National Organizations - Immigration page.

INA § 207(c)(3); 8 USC § 1157(c)(3); see also USCIS website’s Green Card for Refugees