Last month marked one year since President Trump issued his infamous “Muslim ban”, an executive order blocking citizens of six countries from entering the United States from entering the U.S. for 90 days—refugees for 120. The order attracted praise from some, while others rose up to rally against. It caused chaos and confusion in airports and refugee homes across the country.
While the order was ultimately blocked, it marked the beginning of an ongoing conversation amongst United States citizens surrounding immigration.
How many refugees does our country let in each year?
Where do those refugees come from?
What is the screening process that takes place?
These are incredibly valid questions that should be asked. And when you dig into the research, the answers just might surprise you.
Of the more than 65 million refugees worldwide, less than one half of one percent are resettled in the United States each year. Those chosen for resettlement in the United States endure a strenuous vetting that takes, on average, 18-24 months to complete—but can be longer based on the applicants nationality.
So what does that process look like? While it would take a textbook to lay out every single intricacy, we’ve broken down the basic process here:
1. First, a person or family flees their country due to war, natural disaster or fear of persecution based on their race, religion, origin, political opinion, or social group. In order to be considered a “refugee”, they must cross the border out of their home country and into another. There, in the foreign country, they can file with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—or UNHCR.
Former Amplio employee (read to the end to find out what he’s doing now!), Malek Alarmash interviewed with us recently to share his family’s personal experience:
“I left Syria and went to Jordan, then waited 3 or 4 months. Once I got on my feet I was able to bring my parents and my sister. When they came, we all applied together with UNCHR. We became refugees.”
2. The UNHCR administers an iris scan to establish the applicant’s identity. Then it is up to them to determine whether to a.) send the refugees back home to their own country, if it is safe enough, b.) keep them in the neighboring country in which they’ve sought refuge or c.) resettle them in host country, like the United States. It is important to note that refugees cannot pick their country of resettlement.
“They had many interviews with us,” Malek explains about this interim process. “We had to provide documents and ID, and renew every year. We had to tell them about where we lived and how we worked. After we renewed twice (two years), they asked us, ‘Would you like to get resettled in another country like the United States, Canada, or Europe?’ and of course we said yes. And in June 2015 they called us regarding an opportunity to come to the U.S.”
3. If referred to the United States, the case is assigned to one of nine U.S. ran Resettlement Support Centers (RSC) stationed across the world. The United States government collects fingerprints to begin biometric checks against multiple databases including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense. Paperwork is collected and a trained RSC officer travels to where the applicants are to conduct face-to-face interviews to determine credibility.
During this part of the process, continuous interagency checks ensure the authenticity of the applicant. “The agencies are looking for potential security threats, including connections to known bad actors, and past immigration or criminal violations,” according to the State Department’s Website.
Natasha Hall, a former immigration officer, describes this part of the grueling process over at The Washington Post saying, “I saw countless refugees break down crying in my interview room because of the length and severity of the vetting process.”
Malek’s story testifies to the length and intensity of the interviews:
“From June 2015 to August 2016 we had five interviews. They asked us about the war, how we left Syria, how our life was, how we became refugees in Jordan.
The [first] interviews were from 7am until probably 3 or 4pm. They took our documentation to send to the IOM (International Organization for Migration). They interviewed us as a family, then separated us to make sure our answers lined up.
Then we started interviewing with the IOM. It’s a longer procedure. The interviews were from 5am until 6pm. We had three interviews in a big, secure office that belonged to the United States.”
4. If no red flags have been raised, the applicant is referred back to the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for further review—i.e. yet another interview, and round of fingerprinting.
Additional reviews and biometric data are required for refugees entering from Syria. It’s important to note that security checks can expire if the vetting process takes too long. All expired steps must be repeated before they can be cleared. Natasha Hall shares the plight of many refugees, “imagine…waiting years in a camp, freezing in tents and unable to put their children in school. Some continue to receive threats — and some applicants are killed while waiting.
5. If the applicant is approved for resettlement in the United States, they must undergo medical screening to ensure they are without any communicable diseases that may pose a public health threat. If the applicant tests positive for disease, this does not void their application—they are treated and required to be screened again until they are cleared. Again, though—if any security checks expire during this time, they must be repeated.
6. Refugees are assigned to a voluntary sponsor agency in the U.S. who will assist them upon arrival. The International Organization for Migration handles all travel logistics. While waiting on final processing, applicants are given a “culture orientation” to help prepare them for life in the U.S.
Malek shares about the final stages of their resettlement:
“After all the interviews they called us in July and said, “You guys are approved to come to the United States and you have one week to travel.’ We had one week to make arrangements with jobs, schools– everything. Then they called us the day of traveling and said, ‘Your flight has been cancelled.’ We waited 15 days before they called back and told us we could leave.
We flew from Jordan to Germany. Germany to Florida. Florida to Georgia. In each country we had an IOM representative who spoke Arabic. They welcomed us and showed us where to go and what to do.”
7. When refugees arrive in the United States, a Customs and Border Protection officer reviews their documentation one last time and conducts additional security checks to ensure that the arriving individual is the same person who was screened and approved for admission.
This multi-step, time-consuming process is not for the faint of heart. As twenty top national security experts put it in a letter to Congress in 2015, “[Refugees] are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler…”
So intensively and so accurately that problems with refugees in the U.S. are all but non-existent. A study completed by the Cato Institute found that “out of millions of refugees resettled to the United States over several decades, just 20 have committed or attempted attacks. They killed three people, all in the 1970s, before the creation of the modern screening system.”
In fact, “the annual chance of being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugees is 1 in 3.6 billion,” whereas the annual chance of being struck by lightning is 1 in 700,000 (over 50,000% more likely).
Refugees are not looking for a hand out, they’re looking for a hand up. They’re looking for basic human rights—safety, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. As of April 2018, a mere 11 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S., despite ongoing devastation. Millions are displaced while others remain trapped in cities, starving. Join us in raising our voice to ask #WhereRtheRefugees
At Amplio, we’re offering help and hope to refugees by connecting them to sustainable jobs here in the U.S. We believe in the resilience and dependability of the refugee workforce and love connecting great companies with this unique labor shortage solution.
A big thank you to Malek Alarmash for sharing his experience with us. Malek and his mom now run a successful Syrian catering business in Clarkston, Georgia. They are among many ambitious, entrepreneurial immigrants who make America great. To hav them cater your next event, send an e-mail to: [email protected]
Our mission at Amplio is helping great companies hire dependable people from the refugee workforce. In conjunction with that mission we recognize our unique authority to serve as advocates for refugees around the globe. Therefore, we proudly claim any opinions in this article as a representation of our business and its impact in the communities we serve.