Refugee Eligibility

//Refugee Eligibility
Refugee Eligibility2020-04-03T18:02:34+00:00

Who is Eligible for Refugee Programming?

There are multiple immigration statuses that the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) deems eligible for ORR-funded programs, the majority of which are offered for up to five years after arrival to the United States. Eligible statuses include:


People admitted to the U.S. through the refugee resettlement program are eligible for all ORR funded programs and services. They also receive short-term services through the Reception and Placement (R&P) program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program

This program is available to Iraqi and Afghani nationals who supported the U.S. armed forces as interpreters or translators, or Iraqi/Afghani nationals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan for a period of at least 12 months, and who have experienced an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment. These foreign nationals must self-petition for this special immigrant visa classification.

Cuban and Haitian Entrant

The Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) is a federal program administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide services to eligible Cuban and Haitian nationals. Individuals arriving through this program are eligible for refugee benefits and services.

Prior to January 12, 2017, Cuban nationals were granted parole status at the U.S. border. These individuals were admitted through what was known as the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which allowed Cubans who had reached U.S. soil to be admitted into the United States and to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

On January 12, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced termination of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. More details about the DHS policy changes and the reasons they were made can be found here.

Depending on their immigration paperwork, Cuban and Haitian nationals may be eligible for ORR benefits and programs. An individual must meet the definition of a Cuban/Haitian entrant under Title V of the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980. A Cuban and Haitian entrant is defined as:

  • Any individual granted parole status as a Cuban/Haitian entrant or granted any other special status subsequently established under the immigration laws for nationals of Cuba or Haiti, regardless of the status of the individual at the time assistance or services are provided; and
  • Any other national of Cuba or Haiti who is not subject to a final, non-appealable and legally enforceable removal order and who meets the following criteria:
    •  is in removal proceedings under the Immigration and Nationality Act; or
    • has an application for asylum pending with USCIS.

A list of documentation that makes a Cuban or Haitian entrant eligible for refugee program and services can be found here.


When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection. Just as with refugees, an asylee/asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in their home country is well-founded. If a person’s asylum case is approved, then they are eligible for refugee benefits and services. They are not eligible while their asylum case is pending, unless they are a Cuban or Haitian national.

Trafficking Victim

Individuals who receive a certification letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) due to being a victim of a severe form of trafficking are able to access services and benefits to the same extent as refugees. More information human trafficking can be found here.

Secondary Migrant

This term is not an official immigration status but rather a descriptor used within the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Network to describe refugees who move from the state where they first were resettled to a different or “secondary” state. They can receive ORR funded services in a secondary state.