PDA has received numerous inquiries from individuals and congregations asking how they can be involved in sponsoring refugees. The Q&A below will help answer questions regarding refugee resettlement.

Who is a refugee?

Based on international law and the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is defined by three basic elements:

  • they are outside their country of origin or outside the country of their former habitual residence;
  • they are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of their country due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted; and
  • the persecution feared is based on at least one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

It is important to note that people who have been forced to flee but are not outside their country of origin are termed as internally displaced persons (IDPs). IDPs are:

 “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”

How does the United States determine if a refugee is eligible for resettlement?

A refugee must apply to be admitted into the United States (U.S.). Applicants for refugee admission to the U.S. must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Meet the definition of a "refugee".
  • Be among those refugees determined by the President to be of special humanitarian concern to the U.S.
  • Be otherwise admissible under U.S. law.
  • Not be firmly resettled in any foreign country.

Although a refugee may meet the above criteria, there is not an entitlement for that person to be admitted to the U.S.

Eligibility for refugee status is determined on a case-by-case basis through an interview with an officer of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the United States Department of Homeland Security. In making a determination, USCIS considers the conditions in the country of origin and evaluates the individual’s credibility. Confirmation that security checks have been completed and the results of the checks are reviewed and analyzed before approval.

How many refugees does the U.S. accept for resettlement?

The United States accepts a limited number of refugees each year. The President in consultation with Congress determines the authorized target for refugee admissions through a Presidential Determination.The number for fiscal year 2016 (October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016) was 84,994.

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the number was 53,716

FY2018: 22,491

FY2019: 30,000 proposed

How long will it take for refugees to begin arriving in the U.S.?

Refugee applicants undergo rigorous security screenings. Security screening starts at the beginning of the application process and results are continuously updated. Refugees are fingerprinted and photographed and their information checked against numerous security databases. Checks occur multiple times.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has gathered sophisticated biometric data such as iris scans on many of the refugees that may apply for admission to the U. S. The process is thorough and lengthy – it can take 1000 days for security screening and other processes to be completed.

How can my church help with a refugee that has been approved for resettlement?

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance participates in the ministry of refugee resettlement in cooperation with Church World Service (CWS), one of the nine voluntary agencies approved by the U.S. State Department to aid in resettlement and integration of refugees legally admitted in this country. This is done through a network of CWS Affiliate offices located throughout the United States. 

The U.S. State Department generally requests that churches working with refugees be located within 50 miles of a refugee resettlement office. A list of CWS Affiliate offices is online.

What is expected of a congregation in refugee resettlement?

Refugee resettlement or sponsorship is an act of faith in which churches can share God's gifts with those seeking new life and renewed hope. It is helping refugees become self-sufficient; contributing members of their new communities by providing initial resources they need while rebuilding their lives in freedom and safety. Congregations are asked to:

  • Be a Friend, providing the crucial emotional support and guidance needed by the refugee to meet the challenges of overcoming great personal losses and making the major adjustments to the new society.
  • Be an Enabler, assisting the refugee with initial material needs and helping the refugee achieve economic self-sufficiency.
  • Be an Advocate, insuring just and decent treatment for the newcomers and promoting respect for the cultural heritage and identity of the refugee.
  • Use the flyer “Pick 3” to see specific ways your congregation can be involved.

What are the benefits of being involved in this ministry?

Refugee sponsorship is a way for congregations to live out the witness of God's love by being a neighbor. We are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to continue that witness by loving each other and to welcome strangers. Congregations become involved for various reasons:

  • to experience the great joy of learning about other parts of the world.
  • for their youth — giving them an opportunity to touch real human need.
  • for their senior citizens — offering an opportunity to keep them in the mainstream of church life by helping with the refugee.
  • as a mission — did you ever think the mission field would come to your neighborhood?
  • for spiritual growth — God speaks through the voice of the dispossessed and prayer life becomes revitalized.
  • because of a profound thankfulness for God's many blessings.
  • for the unique closeness felt by the congregation as you work towards a common goal.
  • Inviting those who are outside of our community is a witness to the love of Christ that lives within us. By embracing the stranger, we affirm the common humanity shared by all of the children of God.

For additional information contact pda@pcusa.org.



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