A refugee is a foreign national who is not currently living in the United States and has not firmly resettled in another country, who wants to relocate to the USA because he or she has been displaced from his or her country of nationality and is “unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The US State Department reports that out of the 53,691 refugees to move to America in 2017, 9,377 were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); 6,886 from Iraq; 6,557 from Syria; 6,130 from Somalia; 5,078 from Burma/Myanmar; 4,264 from Ukraine; 3,550 from Bhutan; 2,577 from Iran; 1,917 from Eritrea; 1,311 from Afghanistan; and 6,044 from other countries. This includes 21,507 main applicants, 7,506 spouses, and 24,678 unmarried children under 21 years of age.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refers most of the refugees who are considered for US relocation. Other refugees are recommended for resettlement in America by a US Embassy or by a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Priority-1 (P-1) processing is given to refugees who are referred by the UNHCR, US Embassy or specific NGOs; refugees of special humanitarian concern get Priority-2 (P-2) processing; and Priority-3 (P-3) processing is provided for family reunification. The US State Department makes the initial decision on whether to allow a refugee to start the process for relocation to the United States. During 2017, the US State Department reported that 33,291 Priority-1 refugees were approved for relocation to the United States; 18,477 cases received P-2 processing; and 244 refugees were able to move to America through P-3 processing. On average, it takes approximately 18-24 months for a refugee to go through the extensive vetting process (i.e., security screening), which is conducted by a Resettlement Support Center in coordination with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and other government agencies, in accordance with the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

If all goes well, the refugee will be approved for relocation to the United States. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) usually arranges travel for the refugee(s) to move to America. When the refugee arrives in the United States, he or she will receive a Form I-94 with the Refugee Admission Stamp and be greeted at the airport by a representative of one of the nine authorized US resettlement agencies. The resettlement representative will take the refugee from the airport to their new home, help them get a Social Security Number, open a bank account, seek employment, get their children enrolled in school (if relevant), and provide other assistance to help the refugee get settled in the community. The Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) will be filed on behalf of the refugee upon arrival in the United States. Refugees are permitted to work in the USA and are required to apply for a Permanent Resident Green Card after living in the USA for one year. Once the refugee has been living in the US for five years as a Permanent Resident and satisfied other criteria, he or she has the option to apply to become an American citizen.