How to Prepare and Submit a Refugee Application to the U.S.

Get tips on completing the refugee application form and required documents.

If you are outside the United States, and have experienced past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution in your home country, you may be able to apply for refugee status, allowing you to come to the United States. This involves filling out a refugee application form, providing certain documents, and meeting various other criteria. See the eligibility guidelines for more on who can gain asylum in the U.S.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes the decision on these applications, subject to annual limits set by the U.S. President.

Step 1 - Contact a Nearby UNHCR or USRP Office

Depending on what country you're in, you may need to start by approaching a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or U.S. Refugee Program (USRP) in your locality. That office can put you through an initial screening, issue a "refugee" designation in your case, and link you up with a USCIS office for further processing.

Step 2 - Contact a Nearby USCIS Office

Your next step is to find a USCIS office that can provide you with the application form and other necessary materials, and orient you to what's required. This is also the office that will make a decision on your application. A USCIS office isn't the same as a U.S. embassy or consulate, though you can certainly ask for the embassy or consulate's help in directing you to a USCIS office.

Step 3 - Fill Out Form I-590 and Other Forms

This is the main form used to apply for refugee status. You'll need to attach some other, backup forms to this one, including Form G-325C (Biographic Information) and Form FD-258 (for taking fingerprints).

Step 4 – Arrange for a Financial Sponsor

In order to apply for refugee status in the United States, you must have an assurance of financial support -- enough to pay for your travel to the United States and initial expenses when you arrive. You can arrange your sponsorship through a U.S.-based family member or a charitable group, perhaps affiliated with a human rights organization, church, or other religious group. Your sponsor will need to fill out USCIS Form I-34.

Step 5 – Gather Evidence

First, you need to prove your identity, by any means possible (USCIS recognizes that you may have fled too quickly to get a passport). Perhaps you still have your driver's license or a student identity card.

You're also expected to prove that you were persecuted or fear persecution on the basis of your religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Your own sworn statement is a good starting point, as are other personal affidavits from friends, relatives, doctors, or anyone in an official position. If you have any membership cards or documents from your group, make copies of those.

But not all the evidence needs to be so personalized; some evidence can simply show the human rights conditions within your country, in order to make the point that you would face the same treatment as others in your position. For example, good forms of evidence might include newspaper articles or reports by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Try to keep these reports relevant to your case. For example, if you're a man who was beaten during student protests, find articles describing beatings at student protests -- but don't bother with articles talking about, for example, persecution of women.

Step 4 – For Your Family

If you are married and/or have children younger than 21 years, you can apply for their refugee status along with yours. For this, you need to attach documents proving your family relationship.

Step 6 - Attend an Interview at a USCIS Office

After submitting your application to USCIS, it will call you and your family members in for a personal interview. You'll be asked to have medical examinations done soon beforehand.

The USCIS officer will review your application, attempt to verify your identity and other key information, and question you about your claimed need for refugee status.Be sure to review the application beforehand, so that you've got all the key names, dates, and facts clear in your head. The decision may rest on the officer's perception that you are telling the truth (are credible).

If You Need Help

Although not required, you may want to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney within the United States -- most likely in the state where you hope to live.

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