A refugee is defined as someone who has fled and cannot return to his or her home country due to well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a specific social group, according to Refugee Council USA.

In order for refugees to resettle in the United States, they must pass through several steps to ensure they aren’t a security risk.

The state department explains that admission to the U.S. as a refugee allows individuals to reside in the country permanently and eventually apply for citizenship.

Steps for a refugee trying to resettle in U.S.:

  1. Refugee status: In most cases, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determines whether an individual qualifies as a refugee under international law.
  2. Referral to the U.S.: The UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, a trained Non-Governmental Organization refers a refugee to the U.S. government who meets one criteria for resettlement.
  3. Resettlement support center: The U.S Department of State contracts a Resettlement Support Center (RSC), which compiles the refugee’s personal data and background information for the security clearance process and an in-person interview with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  4. Security Clearance Process: A number of security checks are conducted for a refugee with the information collected by the RSC. The State Department runs the names of refugees referred to the U.S. through a standard CLASS (Consular Lookout and Support System) name check. Additional enhanced interagency security checks began in 2008 and applied to all refugee applicants in 2010.
  5. Security Clearance Process: Certain refugees undergo an additional review called a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO). These individuals must receive SAO clearance from a number of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to continue the resettlement process. If needed, this step runs alongside Step 4.
  6. Security Clearance Process: A U.S. government employee takes fingerprints and photographs of refugees who meet the minimum age requirement, usually on the same day as their DHS interview. The fingerprints are checked against various government databases and DHS reviews information on any matches.
  7. In-person Interview: An officer from DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) travels to a refugee’s country of asylum to conduct a detailed, face-to-face interview of a refugee applicant. Based on the interview and information in the refugee’s file, the officer will determine if the individual qualifies as a refugee and is admissible under U.S. law.
  8. DHS Approval: Once the USCIS officer determines an individual qualifies as a refugee and meets other admission criteria, he or she will conditionally approve the refugee’s application for resettlement and submit it to the U.S. Department of State for final processing. Conditional approvals become final once the State Department receives and clears the results of all security checks (Steps 4, 5, and 6).
  9. Medical Screening: Refugee applicants approved for resettlement in the U.S. undergo medical screening conducted by the International Organization for Migration or a physician designated by the U.S. Embassy.
  10. Matching Refugees with a Sponsor Agency: Every refugee is assigned to a Voluntary Agency in the U.S., such as the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). USCRI will place refugees with a local partner agency or office that assists refugees upon their arrival in the U.S.
  11. Cultural Orientation: In addition, approved refugees receive cultural orientation while waiting for final processing, to prepare them for their journey to and initial resettlement in the United States.
  12. Security Clearance Process: Prior to departure to the U.S., a second interagency check is conducted for most refugees to check for new information. Refugees must clear this check in order to enter the U.S.
  13. Admission to the U.S.: Five U.S. airports are designated as ports of entry for refugee admissions. Upon arrival at one of these locations, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer reviews the refugee’s documentation and conducts additional security checks to ensure that the arriving refugee is the same person who was screened and approved for admission to the U.S.

INFOGRAPHIC: 13 steps from whitehouse.gov