Questions about Refugees or Refugee Resettlement?

We invite you to spend a little time learning about how people become refugees and what Canopy Northwest Arkansas is doing to help.

What does it mean to be a Refugee?

What is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin. This definition is based on the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocols relating to the Status of Refugees, which the United States became a party to in 1968. Following the Vietnam War and the country’s experience resettling Indochinese refugees, Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which incorporated the Convention’s definition into U.S. law and provides the legal basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). (Source: American Immigration Council)

Or, read this brief explanation from the UNHCR.

What is the difference between a refugee and immigrant? 

Refugees move to a new country because they have nowhere else to go. They are fleeing persecution and fear for their lives. They must prove that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, and other factors. Immigrants relocate to a new country because they want to, and have approval, from the government that is receiving them. They are people who can return to their countries without fear.

Why should we allow refugees to come here?

We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. As people of faith, we are called to “welcome the stranger”.  Helping refugees who have fled their homes and are displaced in refugee camps with little or no food, health care, shelter or protection is the right thing to do. We hope that someone would do the same for us if we were in their shoes.  

While there is a short-term cost, there is a long-term economic gain that refugees bring. The majority of refugees open businesses, fill important jobs, become teachers, CEOs, and public officials. The overwhelming majority of refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. today are law-abiding, hard-working individuals and families who make valuable contributions to their communities by starting businesses, paying taxes, and by sharing their unique cultural gifts with America.

Much of our continued success as a nation will rest on our ability to embrace those who come here seeking protection and better opportunities for themselves and their families. The U.S. is a global leader in programs that support immigration, refugee resettlement and asylee protection. Let us all continue to join forces in working to help improve these programs and maintain their integrity.

How many refugees are there and where are they coming from?

According to UNHCR, at the end of the 2014 there were an estimated 14.4 million refugees (a 19 percent growth from the previous year).

In 2015,UNHCR estimated that 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes due to conflict and persecution. 

The top origin countries for refugees in 2015 were:

  • Syria (4.9 million)
  • Afghanistan (2.7 million)
  • Somalia (1.12 million)
  • South Sudan (778,000)
  • Sudan, (628,800)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (541,500)


The top origin countries for refugees resettled in the United States in 2015 were

  • Myanmar (Burma) (18,318)
  • Iraq (12,608)
  • Somalia (8,852)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (7,823)
  • Bhutan (5,563)


Who determines refugee admission to the United States?

Every year, immigration law requires that Executive Branch officials:

  1. Review the refugee situation or emergency refugee situation.
  2. Project the extent of possible participation of the United States in resettling refugees.
  3. Discuss the reasons for believing that the proposed admission of refugees is justified by humanitarian concerns, grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest.

Following consultations (discussions) with cabinet representatives and Congress, a determination is drafted for signature by the President. The Presidential Determination establishes the overall admissions levels and regional allocations of all refugees for the upcoming fiscal year.  No refugees may be admitted in the new fiscal year until the Presidential Determination has been signed. 

Annually, processing priorities are established to determine which of the world’s refugees are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. Fulfilling a processing priority enables a refugee applicant the opportunity to interview with a USCIS officer, but does not guarantee acceptance.

In 2016 that number was 85,000, with at least 10,000 of those refugees likely to be from Syria. For 2017, the Obama administration committed to accept 110,000 refugees; however, the Trump administration has now issued Executive Orders to limit refugee resettlement in the US to 50,000 for 2017.  

In past years, during the Reagan years, for example, our refugee numbers were somewhat higher at 120,000. Still, in any given year, the number the U.S. resettles is relatively small— roughly one-half of one percent of the world’s refugees, which is estimated today at over 60 million*. (UNHCR) 

Source:, New York Times

What is the vetting process?

Process Overview

There are many misunderstandings in the vetting process for refugees, so what is that process really like? What does it entail? How rigorous is the process?

In short, refugees are screened more rigorously than any other group of people entering the United States.

More than tourists.

More than international students.

More than business travelers.

More than any other demographic.

But specifically How are they screened?  

How do refugees get to Arkansas?

Arkansas's Refugee History

In the mid-1970's, many Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and Hmong made their way to the U.S. via Arkansas after the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act.

In the 1980's, Arkansas once again became a staging area for refugees during the Cuban refugee crisis. In the end, however, only a small (but significant) number of Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, or Hmong stayed in Arkansas, and very few Cubans made Arkansas their home.

More recently, Arkansas refugee resettlement agencies have been authorized to resettle up to 35 refugees per year, all family reconnects. That is, refugees who are reconnecting with family already here in Arkansas.

Though authorized to resettle 35, that threshold has seldom been reached. The previous four years have seen resettlement totals of

  • 10 people in 2012
  • 7 in 2013
  • 7 in 2014
  • 13 in 2015

Source: U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement

Canopy NWA continues the rich legacy of our community being a place of refuge and restoration for those escaping conditions we can only imagine.

Today, Canopy NWA is serving as the host organization for Northwest Arkansas that will resettle up to 100 refugees per year in Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas's Process Today

Step 1: The refugee flees their homeland because of a well-founded fear of persecution or danger

Step 2: The refugee seeks protection from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR collects all their information, biometric data, and interviews them to make sure they qualify for refugee status under international law.

Step 3: The refugee is referred to the US Refugee Admissions Program. This program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States. There are three principal categories for classifying refugees under the U.S. refugee program:

  • Priority One. Individuals with compelling persecution needs or those for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by UNHCR, or they are identified by a U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).
  • Priority Two. Groups of “special concern” to the United States, which are selected by the Department of State with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. Currently, the groups include certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.
  • Priority Three. The relatives of refugees (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) who are already settled in the United States may be admitted as refugees. The US-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) and must be processed by DHS.

Before admission to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Every fact of their story is verified. They go through rigorous health screenings and prolonged background checks. Syrian refugees are flagged for additional security screening. Even if they pass all the above, not all refugees are admitted to the US:

  • Refugees are subject to the grounds of exclusion listed in Section 212(a) of the INA, including health-related grounds, moral/criminal grounds, and security grounds. They may also be excluded for polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, and previous deportations. Waivers exist for certain grounds of exclusion.

Step 4: After a refugee has been conditionally accepted for resettlement, the RSC sends a request for assurance of placement to the United States, and the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) works with private voluntary agencies, like our parent organization, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services (LIRS), to determine where the refugee will live.

If the refugee does not have friends or family in the United States with whom they want to reunite, LIRS must place the case at one of its many local resettlement sites. In order to do this, LIRS carefully considers all of the individual aspects of the arriving refugee, as well as the best interests of the refugee. Then, LIRS decides where the refugee will be most likely to thrive. If LIRS decides that NWA is the best option for the refugee, then it’s up to Canopy to make sure they have everything they need to successfully build a new life here. There’s so much that goes into this process…that’s where you come in.

(Source: American Immigration Council)

Do refugees come here for a certain time limit?

Refugees and immigrants are here permanently. They can apply for permanent residency after a year and apply for citizenship after five years.

What about refugees taking jobs and draining local economies?

Refugees are more likely to be entrepreneurial and enjoy higher rates of successful business ventures compared to natives. At the local level, refugees provide increased demand for goods and services through their new purchasing power and can be particularly revitalizing in communities that otherwise have a declining population.  It is also worth noting that research has shown annual earnings growth among refugees living in the U.S. has outpaced pay increases among economic immigrants, or individuals who haven’t been displaced by disaster, persecution or violence.

How do refugees support themselves?

They find jobs. Refugees have been helpful to our economy in recent years because they have taken jobs in industries that have had employee shortages. And, these industries were good placements for refugees because they required few English or technical skills.

Have more questions?  

Please send us your questions and we will be in contact as soon as possible.