Refugee Applications

Applying for Refugee Status in the U.S.

How a Skokie Refugee Attorney Can Help

The United States is often considered the land of plenty, drawing immigrants to this country who are wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families. Economic opportunity is the driving force for many who want to come to the U.S., but others are escaping danger and persecution.

At Gambacorta Law, our legal professionals have extensive knowledge of immigration laws and procedures. We can help you or a loved one seeking to apply for refugee status in this country.

The Difference Between Asylee and Refugee

What delineates asylum seeker from refugee is essentially where they are located. An asylum seeker, called an asylee, is at or inside the U.S. border. They seek protection from dangers in their home country when they arrive or cross the border of their country of destination.

Anyone seeking protection and legal entry to the U.S. from overseas is a refugee. They fled their home country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. They apply for refugee status through a government or United Nations Refugee Agency.

Those seeking asylum and refugee status must prove they qualify for protection. Gambacorta Law can help those seeking asylum or refugee status.

The rights of both groups are similar but not identical. Once approved as a refugee, the person will receive a medical exam, cultural orientation, and help with travel plans to the U.S. (including a loan to cover the costs of travel). Upon arrival in the U.S., they are eligible for medical and cash assistance. They will also receive a work permit. One year after entry, they can apply to become a legal permanent resident. They can apply for U.S. citizenship four years after that. Refugees have the right to stay in the U.S. indefinitely, or until conditions improve in their home country.

Asylum seekers cannot apply for a work permit until one year after they have applied for asylum. They also don’t have the same federally funded benefits provided to refugees. Like refugees, they can apply for green cards after one year and citizenship four years after that.

Qualifying for Refugee Status

A specially trained officer from U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interviews those seeking refugee status. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

During the refugee applicant interview, the officer will examine if the applicant is:

  • Qualified under a designated processing priority
  • Meets the definition of a refugee
  • Is not firmly resettled in a third country
  • Is otherwise admissible under U.S. law

Immigration law requires a Presidential Determination each year to review the refugee situation and establish priorities for acceptance. A limited number of refugees are resettled into the U.S. each year.

The current criteria are as follows:

  • Priority 1. United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), or the U.S. Embassy, or a non-governmental organization refers them to the United States for resettlement.
  • Priority 2. They are members of specified groups of special humanitarian concern as determined by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
  • Priority 3. Spouses, unmarried minor children, and others that have an anchor relative in the U.S. who is a refugee or asylee.

How Do I Apply for Refugee Status?

Those seeking a refugee determination should approach either the UNHCR or U.S. Refugee Program where they currently stay. From there, applicants will continue in the process through a nearby USCIS office. There will be several forms required, such as I-590, G-325C, and FD-258. There will be an in-person interview with a USCIS officer.


A seasoned refugee lawyer like ours at Gambacorta Law can help you through the complex application and interview process.


Background Checks for Refugees

The screening of refugee applicants includes backgrounds checks through biographic data, fingerprints, travel history, and other security measures. Even if USCIS approves an applicant, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) must find them to be admissible. The refugee is vetted prior to departure from a foreign country to the U.S. and again on their arrival.

Can Refugee Status Be Revoked?

Yes. Refugee status can be terminated if you no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution. Those who have not received their green card may be at risk of no longer having the right to stay in the U.S. If they are wanting to stay in this country, refugees should apply for their green card as soon as they are eligible.

New Designation for Afghan Nationals

The increased level of violence in Afghanistan triggered an update to refugee priority criteria. On Aug. 2, 2021, the Department of State announced certain Afghan nationals who are at higher risk due to their affiliation with the United States now have a Priority 2 designation. This change also includes their eligible family members.

Individuals eligible for the program include:

  • Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a special immigrant visa but who work or worked as employees of contractors for the U.S. government, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support
  • Afghans who work or worked for a U.S. government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a U.S. government grant or cooperative agreement
  • Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization

Eligible Afghans cannot self-refer to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). In cases where they had worked for a governmental agency or contractor, referrals must be made by a U.S. government official. For those who worked for non-governmental entities, the senior-most U.S. citizen employee must make the referral.

Legal Help for Refuge Seekers

Immigration laws and policies change and are inherently complicated. Our knowledgeable refugee lawyers understand the latest changes and how they affect you.

Do you need help filing a refugee application? Not sure where to start?
Call Gambacorta Law at (847) 443-9303 or

contact us online for a free consultation.

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