Infographic: The Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States

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November 20, 2015 at 7:09 PM ET by Amy Pope


A step-by-step guide to the rigorous process for refugee entry into the U.S.

‎Refugees undergo more rigorous screening than anyone else we allow into the United States. Here’s what the screening process looks like for them:

The Screening Process for Refugees Entry Into the United States (full text of the graphic written below the image)

The Full Text of the Graphic:

The Screening Process for Refugee Entry Into the United States

Recurrent vetting: Throughout this process, pending applications continue to be checked against terrorist databases, to ensure new, relevant terrorism information has not come to light. If a match is found, that case is paused for further review. Applicants who continue to have no flags continue the process. If there is doubt about whether an applicant poses a security risk, they will not be admitted.

  1. Many refugee applicants identify themselves to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR. UNHCR, then:
    • ​​Collects identifying documents
    • Performs initial assessment
      • Collects biodata: name, address, birthday, place of birth, etc.
      • Collects biometrics: iris scans (for Syrians, and other refugee populations in the Middle East)
    • Interviews applicants to confirm refugee status and the need for resettlement
      • Initial information checked again
    • Only applicants who are strong candidates for resettlement move forward (less than 1% of global refugee population).
  2. Applicants are received by a federally-funded Refugee Support Center (RSC):​​
    • Collects identifying documents
    • Creates an applicant file
    • Compiles information to conduct biographic security checks
  3. Biographic security checks start with enhanced interagency security checks

    Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.

    • ​​U.S. security agencies screen the candidate, including:

    • The screening looks for indicators, like:

      • Information that the individual is a security risk

      • Connections to known bad actors

      • Outstanding warrants/immigration or criminal violations

    • DHS conducts an enhanced review of Syrian cases, which may be referred to USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate for review. Research that is used by the interviewing officer informs lines of question related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.

  4. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/USCIS interview:

    • Interviews are conducted by USCIS Officers specially trained for interviews​​

    • Fingerprints are collected and submitted (biometric check)

    • Re-interviews can be conducted if fingerprint results or new information raises questions. If new biographic information is identified by USCIS at an interview, additional security checks on the information are conducted. USCIS may place a case on hold to do additional research or investigation. Otherwise, the process continues.

  5. Biometric security checks:

    • Applicant’s fingerprints are taken by U.S. government employees

      • Fingerprints are screened against the FBI’s biometric database.

      • Fingerprints are screened against the DHS biometric database, containing watch-list information and previous immigration encounters in the U.S. and overseas.

      • Fingerprints are screened against the U.S. Department of Defense biometric database, which includes fingerprint records captured in Iraq and other locations.

    • If not already halted, this is the end point for cases with security concerns. Otherwise, the process continues.

  6. Medical check:

    • The need for medical screening is determined​​

    • This is the end point for cases denied due to medical reasons. Refugees may be provided medical treatment for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.

  7. Cultural orientation and assignment to domestic resettlement locations:

    • ​​Applicants complete cultural orientation classes.

    • An assessment is made by a U.S.-based non-governmental organization to determine the best resettlement location for the candidate(s). Considerations include:

    • A location is chosen.

  8. Travel:

    • ​​International Organization for Migration books travel

    • Prior to entry in the United States, applicants are subject to:

    • This is the end point for some applicants. Applicants who have no flags continue the process.

  9. U.S. Arrival:

    • ​​All refugees are required to apply for a green card within a year of their arrival to the United States, which triggers:

    • Refugees are woven into the rich fabric of American society!

‎Amy Pope is Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security

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