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Refugees & Immigrants: useful terms & concepts

Author(s): David Roesel
Date Authored: December 01, 2008

General Information

There are a number of ways that people can legally enter the United States. In general, they can enter temporarily with a non-immigration visa good for up to six months, or they can enter as an immigrant. There are various types of immigration visas, which fall into three main categories: 1) to be sponsored by a family member, 2) to be sponsored by an employer, and 3) to come without a sponsor through the "Diversity Visa Program" (often referred to as the "lottery"). An Immigration Visas confers lawful permanent residence to the recipient, who is issued a "green card." After five years of lawful permanent residence, one can apply to become a naturalized citizen.

A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country of origin because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based upon race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or a membership in a particular social group.  Refugee status is conferred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as the United States Citizen and Immigration Services USCIS), and a limited number are resettled in the United States each year. Refugees are sponsored by a resettlement agency (often called a Volag, or Volunteer Agency), and usually given short-term assistance in the form of medical care and housing.  The expectation is that they will obtain gainful employment as rapidly as possible. Refugees are usually prohibited from traveling outside the US without special permission.

An asylee is someone who is already living within the US and is petitioning to remain out of fear of persecution of they return to their homeland.

Below are some useful links.

  1. VISA Information: US Department of State
  2. VISA Types: US Department of State
  3. Glossary of Visa Terms: US Department of State
  4. Lawful Permanent Residence (Green Card):  US Citizenship & Immigration Services
  5. Refugee Questions and Answers:  US Citizenship & Immigration Services