Q & A: Iraqi Processing

Q. Who is eligible for USRAP consideration?
A. In general, a refugee is a person who has crossed an international border and is unwilling or unable to return home because of past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Individuals who have left Iraq and believe they have been persecuted or have a well founded fear of persecution should approach the nearest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office for protection and assistance. UNHCR offices register asylum seekers and may refer for third country resettlement consideration, including to the United States, those who are found to be particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement. For more information on UNHCR standards and criteria for determining resettlement as the appropriate solution for refugees, please refer to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, available online at the UNHCR website.

In addition, certain categories of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations may apply directly for USRAP consideration in Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, without need of a referral from UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or non-governmental organization (NGO). For more information on eligibility criteria and application instructions, please visit the State Department website.

Included in the above-mentioned categories of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations are beneficiaries of an approved I-130 immigrant visa petition. A U.S.-based relative who filed an approved I-130 immigrant visa petition on behalf of his/her Iraqi relatives should have received a letter from the Department of State informing them of their relative’s eligibility for a refugee interview. If an Iraqi’s U.S.-based relative has not received this letter, or if the U.S.-based relative has not yet filed an I-130 petition but he/she or the potential beneficiary is interested in learning more about this option, please check the following website for "I-130 P-2 Program Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)".

Q. What if I am an Iraqi still in Iraq?
A. Certain categories Iraqis with U.S. affiliations may apply for consideration to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) directly through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – an NGO funded by the U.S. Department of State – in Baghdad, Iraq. Persons who believe they are at risk or have experienced serious harm as a result of their association with the U.S. Government since March 20, 2003, and who wish to be considered for resettlement as refugees in the United States may initiate a case by contacting the IOM. Please check the following website for more information on the eligibility requirements for direct access to the USRAP.

Individuals who do not fall into any of the qualifying categories who are seeking access to the USRAP must make the difficult decision to leave Iraq and approach the nearest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office for protection and assistance.

It is important to take into account that refugee processing inside Iraq will be limited by security and logistical constraints and we encourage the majority of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations to apply for USRAP consideration in Jordan or Egypt if possible.

Q. I am currently in Syria. How can I apply for refugee resettlement in the U.S.?
A. All Iraqi asylum seekers in Syria should register with UNHCR, located at Autostrade Halab, Mafraq Mukhayyam al-Wafideen, Mustauda‘at Tahbar. UNHCR offices register asylum seekers and may refer for third country resettlement consideration, including to the United States, those who are found to be particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement. Due to restrictions in Syria, Iraqi asylum seekers cannot apply to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) directly through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). All applicants must go through UNHCR.

Q. What if I worked for the U.S. Government or have an affiliation with the U.S.?
A. Certain categories of Iraqis with U.S. affiliations who believe that they are at risk or have experienced serious harm as a result of this affiliation can apply directly for consideration for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) in Jordan, Egypt, or Iraq. See the State Department website for more information on the requirements of this program. These asylum seekers may directly contact the USRAP’s Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) – the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – to obtain information about applying for admission to the U.S. as a refugee without the need for a referral from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a U.S. Embassy, or an NGO. Individuals currently located in Jordan can contact IOM Amman via email or at 962-6-562-5080. Individuals currently located in Egypt can contact IOM Cairo via email or at 20-22-735-7053. Persons wishing to initiate a case in Iraq should contact IOM Baghdad.

All Iraqi asylum seekers are encouraged to register with UNHCR for protection and assistance.

Q. What if I am an Iraqi Citizen currently in the United States and am unable to return home?
A. Iraqis currently in the United States who are not able to return to Iraq because they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may apply for asylum with the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through one of their offices in the United States. Information on the process of applying for asylum in the U.S. can be found at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website. To view the asylum information, click on the Services and Benefits link, then Humanitarian Benefits and then Asylum.

Q. Do I need a G series passport to be processed for admission to the U.S. as a refugee?
A. Individuals who are approved by the U.S. as refugees do not need a passport to enter the United States. Travel documents which are accepted for entry in the United States are prepared for the refugee and provided at the time of travel. However, some countries of first asylum in the region do require G series passports for entry.

Q. What information do I need to provide showing that I assisted U.S. efforts in Iraq?
A. Please contact the appropriate IOM office for specific information about documentation. In general, applicants will be requested to submit scanned copies of identifying documents of the principal applicant and each family member, such as passports and jensias, letters of recommendation from current and/or former US-affiliated employers, including updated contact information, official badges, etc.

Q. What is the general contact information for the Overseas Processing Entities (OPEs) operating in the Middle East?
A.

  1. Amman - International Organization for Migration (IOM) (regional headquarters for programs in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq): 962 6 562 5080
  2. Cairo - IOM: 20 22 735 7053
  3. Istanbul - International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) (regional headquarters for programs in Turkey, Lebanon, and others): 0.212) 219 20 55

Q. What if I have family members in the United States?
A. Once a refugee arrives to the United States and would like to petition for other members of his/her immediate and/or extended family to follow to join, a number of avenues are available. Under Priority Three (P-3) processing, a refugee can file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) for a spouse, parents, and unmarried children under the age of 21. This form must be submitted to the Department of State through a voluntary resettlement agency in the refugee's geographic area. This program is only open to designated nationalities, set by PRM in consultation with DHS/USCIS at the beginning of each fiscal year. In FY 2009, Iraqis are among the seventeen nationalities eligible for P-3 processing.

A refugee who has arrived to the United States can also file a Form I-730 (Visa 93) for spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. Although there are no restrictions on nationalities that can file this petition, it must be filed with USCIS within 2 years of arrival in the United States. This form may be downloaded from the USCIS website (www.uscis.gov) and can be submitted directly to USCIS without the aid of a voluntary resettlement agency. However, a refugee may consult with a voluntary agency in his/her geographic region for details about this program. (Note: both the P-3 and V93 options are also available for Iraqis who were granted asylum after arrival in the United States.)

Lastly, a refugee has the option of filing a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative upon arrival to the U.S. However, U.S. citizenship or Permanent Resident Alien status is required for this program. Applicants may apply on behalf of spouses, children, parents, and siblings, depending on the refugee's legal status in the U.S. Iraqi beneficiaries of approved I-130 petitions (both current and non-current) have the option of seeking direct access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, based on the approved I-130 and without the need for UNHCR or other referral. In order to qualify for resettlement under this program, I-130 beneficiaries must be interviewed by DHS and demonstrate that they are refugees and are otherwise admissible to the U.S. Please visit the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) website for more information about this special program. Also, please visit the DHS website for eligibility requirements and filing instructions.

Q. If I am referred to the program for processing how long does it take?
A. Resettlement is a multi-step process, and referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is the very first step. Upon receiving a referral, the U.S. Department of State instructs its overseas processing entity (OPE), an NGO funded by the State Department, to prepare a case file and schedule an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The OPE helps the refugee and his/her family (if applicable) prepare their case file - taking photos, collecting information, scheduling of interviews, requesting background checks, etc. All applicants are then interviewed by an immigration officer from USCIS, who adjudicates the case. If approved for refugee status, the applicant and his/her family sees a doctor to undergo medical exams and receive cultural orientation. In addition, an NGO in the US agrees to be the refugee's sponsor. Once all security and health checks are complete, they are booked on a flight to the US.

The time it takes to complete all the steps varies. Worldwide, the average processing time is about eight to ten months from the time of referral. However, every case is different, and waiting time can vary. For Iraqis in Jordan, the processing time has generally been shorter - around five months. Due to logistical and security constraints, however, processing in Iraq has taken much longer.

Q. If I apply to become a refugee, am I guaranteed resettlement?
A. The decision to admit an applicant to the United States as a refugee is made by DHS/USCIS following an in-person interview based on the particular merits of the case. A referral to the USRAP provides access to an interview with DHS/USCIS but does not guarantee admission to the United States.

Q. If I am granted refugee status how long can I stay in the U.S.?
A. U.S. resettlement through the USRAP is permanent. Those who are found to be refugees and admissible will be relocated to the United States to start new lives. They will be provided short term assistance with housing, medical appointments, and other services upon arrival, but will be expected to seek employment and become fully self-sufficient as soon as possible. Eligible refugees must apply to adjust status to that of lawful permanent resident after one year and may apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.

Q. What kind of benefits will I get if I become a refugee?
A. Individuals who are admitted to the U.S. as refugees are sponsored by one of ten resettlement agencies participating in the Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement (R&P) Program. The sponsoring agency is responsible for providing initial services, which include housing; essential furnishings; food; clothing; community orientation; and referral to other social, medical and employment services for the refugees’ first 30 - 90 days in the United States. For more information about the R&P Program, please visit the State Department website.

In addition to the R&P Program, refugees may be eligible for additional services from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Individuals interested in finding out more information about HHS benefits are encouraged to visit the website of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within ORR at the ACF website. A general fact sheet on U.S. resettlement, entitled "17 Things You Need to Know About Resettling to the United States," is also available on the Refugee Processing Center's (RPC) website.

All refugees are expected to seek employment and become financially self-sufficient as soon as possible. Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is permanent. Refugees are required to apply to adjust status to lawful permanent residence after one year and may apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.

Q. How may an American help to resettle Iraqis coming to the United States?
A. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in coordination with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, has provided permanent resettlement to over 2.6 million refugees since 1975. PRM funds ten public and private non-profit organizations to help provide initial services and assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. All refugees approved for admission to the United States are provided with sponsorship and resettlement services appropriate to their personal circumstances by one of these organizations.

These organizations provide airport reception; basic needs support including housing, furnishings, food, and clothing; community, health, and employment orientation; school registration for children; and referrals to public benefit programs and other community services for which refugees are eligible. The program would not succeed without volunteers in communities across the United States to assist with these activities. Below are the websites for the U.S. resettlement agencies. On these sites you can identify affiliate offices of these agencies in your area. If you would like to become part of this effort, please contact one of the agencies on the following list to find out how you can help.

U.S. Refugee Resettlement Agencies:

  1. Church World Service
  2. Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society
  3. Ethiopian Community Development Council
  4. Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  5. Bureau of Refugee Programs
  6. International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  7. Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service
  8. U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
  9. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
  10. World Relief

Q. How can I find out the status of my case?
A. Neither the U.S. Department of State nor its Overseas Processing Entities (OPE) overseas, including the International Organization of Migration (IOM), can provide updates on cases still pending with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Individuals must be in touch with UNHCR regarding the status of their case. UNHCR offices register asylum seekers and may refer for third country resettlement consideration, including to the United States, those who are found to be particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement.

All inquiries regarding the status of a case already referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) through one of the U.S. Department of State’s OPEs overseas should be addressed to the respective OPE via email or telephone:

  1. Amman - International Organization for Migration (IOM) (regional headquarters for programs in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq): 962 6 562 5080
  2. Cairo – IOM: 20 22 735 7053
  3. Istanbul – International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) (regional headquarters for programs in Turkey, Lebanon, and others) (0.212) 219 20 55

Individuals should be ready to provide OPE with his/her name, date of birth, and 6-digit case number. Please note that due to strict confidentiality guidelines, OPE is not able to provide case updates to any third party, including family members. Individuals wishing to receive an update on their case should contact OPE directly. Arabic speakers are on hand to answer questions.

Q. Who can I contact regarding the status of my Special Immigrant Visa (SIV)?
A. The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program is administered by the Bureau of Consular Affairs within the U.S. Department of State, and is separate and independent from the Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

Please direct your questions regarding the SIV program to the appropriate agency/office involved:

  1. If you have questions on how to receive Chief of Mission Approval, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
  2. If you have an approved Form I-360 petition, and have questions regarding your status, please contact the National Visa Center.
  3. If you have questions regarding filing requirements and instructions for an SIV petition, please contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  4. For questions regarding SIV benefits and post-arrival services, please contact the Special Immigrant Visa program.
  5. If you have an immigrant visa interview scheduled, please contact the embassy where the interview will be scheduled. You can find a list of our embassies here.
  6. For additional information about the SIV program, including how to apply, please visit the Bureau of Consular Affair’s website. Information about refugee benefits available to Iraqi and Afghan beneficiaries of SIVs can be found on the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) website.

Q. What if I am writing on behalf of a member of Congress?
A. All inquiries regarding case status should be directed to the Bureau of Legislative Affairs (H). If a request is tasked to the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), a representative from the appropriate office will respond in due course.

Q. How do I obtain more information about Iraqi refugee processing?
A. Additional information on Iraqi refugee assistance and resettlement can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) website. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's Office of Refugee and IDP Affairs also contains useful information on its website.

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