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Refugee Screening Process

Throughout this election season, some notable politicians and their surrogates, pundits, and government officials have been vociferous in their claims that the United States of America has utterly open borders; that our current immigration laws permit anyone to enter into the U.S. without adequate screening; that we’re allowing refugees to enter without even knowing, who they are or anything about their backgrounds – thereby creating a huge threat for a terrorist attack on American soil.

As someone, who has spent his professional life navigating U.S. Immigration Law, I can say, unequivocally: Nothing can be further from the truth.

In short, if a refugee cannot be identified, he or she is not allowed to legally enter the U.S.



Before refugees can gain entry into the U.S., they are subjected to numerous interviews, background checks, biometric screening, and other security measures with international organizations, and several U.S. government agencies.

A person’s first step when seeking asylum in the U.S. from a war-torn or politically unstable country begins with an Application for Resettlement to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

As part of the application process, and well before it would ever refer a refugee to the U.S. as a possible candidate for resettlement, the UNHCR collects extensive biographic data.


Mandatory Screening Prior to Resettlement

Through electronic fingerprinting, iris scans, and a series of personal interviews, the UNHCR develops comprehensive Biometrics on every applicant.

Complete with meta-data, this background information
is ingested into highly advanced and globally connected databases, which are programmed to search for and identify security risks.

Less than one percent of the global refugee population moves forward after these United Nations screening measures have been completed.

For those who pass the initial application stage, the next step is assistance and additional screening at a Resettlement Support Center (RSC).

Funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the primary role of an RSC is to create a case file for the refugee (and her / his family, if applicable) in preparation for the refugee’s interviews with officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In developing the refugee’s case file, the RSC conducts its own interviews and fact checking, takes photos of the refugee, ensures a security name check has been completed, requests a sponsorship assurance from a resettlement agency in the U.S., schedules mandatory medical examinations, and even arranges travel through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), when approvals dictate.


The medical screening is done to check for health issues like tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. If such medical conditions are detected, depending upon the severity and other circumstances, refugees may be provided with medical treatment prior to their interviews.

Once the case file is ready, and all security and health checks are complete, an officer with the USCIS interviews the refugee candidate, and adjudicates the case.

If approved for admission, the candidate and her / his family receive sponsorship from a non-governmental organization (NGO) working under agreement with PRM in the U.S.

They also receive a short cultural orientation program to introduce them to life in the United States, and then they are scheduled for travel to the U.S. This process can take 18-24 months, and involve as many as 8-10 interviews abroad and at least one interview when they come to the U.S.

Ultimately, no fewer than four U.S. agencies – the National Counter Terrorism Center, the FBI, the DHS, and the U.S. State Department – will have conducted their own extensive background checks on each candidate, before anyone is granted entry into the U.S.

From connections to internationally known “bad actors” to outstanding warrants for even the smallest of violations, these agencies look for any information to disqualify a candidate as a security risk.

Of course, refugee applicants from specially designated countries like Syria must go through additional screening measures. Beyond the enhanced reviews by the DHS, these cases are referred to the USCIS Fraud Detection Department and National Security Directorate for even greater scrutiny.

Again, only a tiny percentage of applicants are approved.

Once the refugee arrives in the U.S. they must apply for a green card within a year after arrival, which triggers another set of security procedures with the U.S. government. This can take an additional one to two years to complete, with more background checks and interviews to pass.

Refugees are regular people, who have lost everything because of war, natural disasters, or terrifying, political instability and lawlessness in their country origin. They are without any shelter or resources, and often they and their families have been forced to flee with no where to go and with little more than the clothes on their backs to escape being killed, unjustly imprisoned, or tortured.

They are the most vulnerable people in the world.

Our willingness to accept and care for these people, many of whom are women and children, underscores what makes America great.


I have helped numerous refugees to obtain legal status, and begin anew in the U.S., and despite their unbelievable hardships, to a person, they have responded with optimism, determination, and hard work to realize the American Dream and to write their own success stories as American citizens.

I am proud to have played a small but important part of their transition from a life of despair to one of hope, and in return, they have made America proud through their perseverance and grand accomplishments.

Of course, the world learned a great deal about refugees this past summer at the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio. I was so moved by the indomitable spirit of the Refugee Olympians, I dedicated my September newsletter to them.…gee-olympic-team/

If you have a story that you would like to share, or to learn more about my perspectives on U.S. Immigrations Law and the path toward citizenship, please follow me at or contact me My team and I have years of experience and we know how to help you and your family.

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