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Rigorous Refugee Vetting Process for the U.S.

Last updated: August 2, 2023

Refugees are the most thoroughly screened people who travel into the United States. Numerous checks by several government departments are built into the process to meet all security requirements, resulting in a rigorous, often years-long process, for every refugee who reaches the United States. This vetting ensures that if, at any stage, there is any doubt about the refugee’s history, affiliations, identity or credibility, the individual does not enter the United States.

Below is a summary of each of these stages, required before refugees are allowed into the U.S. 

Stage 1.
Less than 1 percent of refugees globally are referred for third country resettlement. Before being considered for resettlement, most refugees must first register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In making a referral, UNHCR conducts an in-depth assessment and background check. Only those who pass the screenings and have been determined to be among the most vulnerable and not a security risk are referred to the United States.   

Stage 2.
Resettlement Support Centers, funded by the U.S. government, conduct prescreening of all refugees applying for resettlement. During this phase, case files are created for those being considered.

Stage 3.
U.S. security agencies screen candidates and conduct biographic security checks, starting with enhanced interagency checks. 

Stage 4.
Specially trained officers with the Department of Homeland Security, office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, conduct in-depth, in-person interviews and collect fingerprints.

Stage 5.
The U.S conducts meticulous security screenings, which include:

  • biographic and identity investigations.
  • FBI biometric checks of fingerprints and photographs.
  • medical screenings.
  • other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community and the FBI.
  • refugees from some countries, such as Iraq and Syria, undergo an additional review through the Security Advisory Opinion process.

Stage 6.
Applicants attend cultural orientation classes to prepare them for adjusting to life in the United States. All refugees are assigned to a resettlement agency who determines where in the United States they will first arrive and prepares to assist them in their initial transition.

The United States has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees, including survivors of torture, yet the cap for admissions has been repeatedly reduced beginning in 2017, and during times when the cap has been increased, total numbers of people resettled to the U.S. continue to be very low. Today, as forced displacement globally has risen to historic levels and the scale and severity of refugee needs increases, the United States can and should continue to be a safe haven.

Additional information about the resettlement process is available here from Refugee Council USA.