Refugee resettlement to the United States by region, 1990–2005 (Source: Migration Policy Institute)

Refugee resettlement to the United States by region, 1990–2005 (Source: Migration Policy Institute)

The History of Asylum in the United States 

The History of Asylum in the United States has been one in which large numbers of refugees were given opportunities for resettlement. Since World War II, the United States has accepted more refugees than any other nation, and more than two million refugees have arrived in the country since 1980. Each year the United States specifies a “ceiling” for the number of applicants it can accept for that year. This is not a set number of approvals, but a ceiling as to the maximum number which may be granted.

Following the mass migrations which occurred after World War 2, the United Nations drafted the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The definition of refugee which was put for in the 1951 Convention was expanded in the 1967 U.N. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United States acceded to this  Protocol in 1968. The United States took legislative steps to meet the requirements of the Protocol and used the same definition for the term refugee set forth by the Convention, in the Refugee Act of 1980, which defines a refugees:

“any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The majority of applicants for resettlement to the US are made abroad, at US embassies in foreign countries and are then reviewed by the State Department. In these situations, the refugee status will typically be reviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees beforehand and recognized by the US. For these refugees, the US has stated its preferred order of solutions as being:

  1.  repatriation of refugees to their country of origin,
  2.  integration of the refugees into their country of asylum
  3.  resettlement to a third country, such as the U.S., when the first two options are not viable.

The United States prioritizes valid applications for resettlement into three levels.

  • Priority 1: Cases that are identified and referred to the program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United States Embassy, or a designated non-governmental organization (NGO).
  • Priority 2: Groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the U.S. refugee program.
  • Priority 3: Family reunification cases (spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of persons lawfully admitted to the United States as refugees or asylees or permanent residents (green card holders) or U.S. citizens who previously had refugee or asylum status). For information on the current nationalities eligible for Priority 3 processing, see the “U.S. Department of State” link to the right.

This is general information and is not intended as legal advice. Individuals filing for Asylum should obtain legal assistance from a private attorney or non-profit. If you have any question contact an Asylum Attorney or send Hamid Yazdan Panah an email using the contact form below.