President Obama has asked his administration to allow at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S in 2016.
The United States has resettled roughly 1,800 Syrians since 2011. That’s still a small share of the millions of Syrians currently displaced in Europe and in countries neighboring their homeland. Currently, the U.S. has a limit to accept 70,000 refugees a year from all over the world. In 2014, almost half of the refugees came from Iraq, Iran, Bhutan and Afghanistan.
The numeric caps notwithstanding, people seeking refugee protection enter a process of screening. Most come through the refugee resettlement program, which caters to people outside the U.S. In this case, they may be in the refugee camps that are proliferating in Europe.
“First, they have to be identified by either the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or a U.S. Embassy, or designated organization,” says Dree Collopy, a lawyer with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “And then they’re referred to a U.S. refugee admissions program.”
She says migrants also have to prove they meet the definition of a refugee: They’ve suffered past persecution or face future persecution.
“That persecution has to be based on one of the grounds that is protected under our laws, and that is political opinion, nationality, race, religion or social group,” she says. “And they have to show that the persecution they suffered was motivated by one of those reasons and that their government was unable or unwilling to protect them.”
And those who make it over have to agree to eventually pay back the government for their travel cost.
Migrants could also try to get to the U.S. on their own and apply for asylum. But Ashley Kaper with Human Rights First says it’s a small share of refugees who manage to do so; they also face a lengthy decision-making process on their status. Moreover, coming in through the resettlement program with one’s refugee status in hand has advantages, including access to help from resettlement organizations.
“You’re eligible for refugee resettlement services, which are temporary housing assistance, financial assistance and job assistance,” Kaper says.
Kaper says whether refugees come in through the resettlement program, they may be eligible to apply for permanent residency in a year.
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