The U.S. refugee resettlement program was created in 1980 primarily to provide refuge to those fleeing communism in Russia and Southeast Asia, later expanding to other regions.  The program was created as a partnership with state government and nonprofit resettlement agencies to provide cash, medical and social services until refugees became self-sufficient in their new communities. The U.S. president sets an annual refugee ceiling in consultation with Congress.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement

The US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) provides new populations with the opportunity to maximize their potential in the United States. Their programs provide people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society.

ORR benefits and services are available to eligible persons from the following groups:

  • Refugees: Refugees are people who are unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion or national origin.
  • Asylees: Individuals who, on their own, travel to the United States and subsequently apply for/receive a grant of asylum. 
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants: Cubans and Haitians who have a current or expired parole, who are in pending removal proceedings, or who have a pending application for asylum.
  • Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders: For their service to the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan, certain Iraqis and Afghans are granted Special Immigrant (SIV) status overseas by the U.S. Department of State and are admitted to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security. These visas are reserved for men and women who undergo rigorous screening and can demonstrate at least two years of faithful and valuable service to the United States.

In this Anderson Cooper 360 segment, Army Capt. Matt Zeller (left) credits his Afghan interpreter, Janis Shinwari, with saving his life during a firefight in Afghanistan, one that Zeller describes as the worst of his life. The two now assist other translators who have fought alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan through No One Left Behind, the nonprofit they started last year. Visit their website to learn more about their story and their work.

  • Amerasians: Individuals fathered by a U.S. citizen and born in Vietnam after January 1, 1962, and before January 1, 1976, are known as Amerasians and may be admitted to the U.S. as immigrants.
  • Victims of Human Trafficking: Certified victims of sex or labor trafficking who are not U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents and who have been issued a Certification Letter by ORR are eligible for the same ORR benefits and services as a refugee and for the same time period as a refugee.