Starting Over: Refugees Must Submit to a Thorough Vetting Process prior to Resettlement in the United States

In one country, a family lives in a city under siege. Gunshots and daily explosions rock the neighborhood. Children cannot play outside nor can adults go safely to work. Food and water are scarce. Escape is the only option. In another country, a young woman professes Christ and immediately becomes a target of the local police. It is illegal to profess any religion other than Islam. Her family shuns her, leaving her isolated and unprotected. If she stays, then she will surely be killed. She too must escape to survive.

The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that worldwide, some 21 million people, half of them children, are refugees—individuals driven from their homes to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. A very small number of these individuals (less than 1%) will receive the opportunity to start a new life in a third country after leaving their homeland.

The United States is 1 of 37 countries with a refugee resettlement program. In fiscal year 2016, 84,995 refugees arrived in the US. Though news reports often make resettlement sound easy, the truth is the process can take years to complete. Applicants must undergo extensive background checks, paperwork, and interviews as they move through the 3 major stages of the process:

Stage 1: Referral

An individual or family seeking refugee status first is referred to a resettlement support center (RSC). If a refugee meets eligibility requirements, the RSC opens a case file and helps the applicant prepare for interviews with refugee officers from the US Department of Homeland Security’s US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Stage 2: Adjudication

In this phase, a USCIS officer travels to the applicant’s country of asylum for interviews. The officer reviews the applicant’s paperwork, family tree, and biographical information to confirm that the individual or family meets the US definition of a refugee. This is an essential step, though one’s classification as a refugee does not guarantee acceptance into the US resettlement program.

Stage 3: Approval

Refugees whose application for US resettlement receives USCIS approval are matched with an American resettlement organization that will facilitate their resettlement to the US. Eleven voluntary resettlement agencies provide placement services for refugees coming to the United States.

Refugees accepted for resettlement in the US undergo extensive cultural training to prepare for their relocation. Soon after arrival, refugees are expected to find a place to live, secure a job, and quickly become self-sufficient.

Volunteers are essential to the resettlement process. They first welcome refugees at the airport and then help the new residents get situated in their American homes, register their children for school, obtain necessary paperwork to work in the US, and obtain additional medical checkups and immunizations. Volunteers and organizations also help by providing English language tutoring and classes. For a refugee, learning English is an important step toward self-sufficiency.

Regardless of their past circumstances, refugees face an uncertain future as they start over in a new country. As followers of Christ, we have an opportunity to show compassion as we assist our new neighbors with this transition.

Carrie Brown McWhorter is a writer and editor from Alabama. Contact her at

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally appears as part of the My Refugee Response series in Missions Mosaic (October 2017).

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