Refugee Green Card
Updated on 11/05/2023
International and U.S. law defines a refugee as a person outside the country of his or her nationality, who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. A refugee is required to apply for refugee green card one year after being admitted to the United States.
People may also hear about asylum. A person who requests asylum in the United States is called an asylee. An asylee is a person who meets the definition of refugee and is already present in the United States or is seeking admission at a port of entry. An asylee can apply for green card one year after their grant of asylum. The green card application procedure and documents for refugee and aslyee are similar.
1. Can I apply for green card as a refugee?
United States immigration law provides a pathway for a refugee to become permanent residents and eventually to apply for citizenship or naturalization. A refugee must meet the following requirements to become a green card holder:
- File your application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
- You were legally admitted into the United States as a refugee;
- You are physically present in the United States at the time you file your green card application;
- You have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after your admission as a refugee at the time you file your application for green card;
- Your refugee status has not been terminated;
- You have not already acquired permanent resident status; and
- You are admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief (You have not committed certain crimes that make it impossible for you to be eligible to receive a permanent residence or green card).
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2. What documents do I need to apply for refugee green card?
- Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. No filing fee is required for this process. Refugees are exempt to pay for this application;
- Proof of your admission to the U.S. as a refugee (for example: copy of your passport showing the entry stamp, I-94 record, letter received reflecting refugee status was granted);
- Evidence of one-year physical presence in the U.S. (for example: travel history that can be obtained at the Custom and Border Protection website);
- Two U.S. passport-style photographs. Taken no more than 30 days before the application is filed;
- Copy of your government-issued identity document with photograph (for example: passport);
- Copy of your birth certificate (if available);
- Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record;
- Certified police and court records of criminal charges, arrests, or convictions (if you have criminal record only);
- Form I-602, Application by Refugee for Waiver of Grounds of Excludability (if you think you may be inadmissible because you committed certain crimes or violated some U.S. laws).
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3. Can my family apply for refugee green card?
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may file their own green card application as derivatives. To be eligible they must demonstrate that:
- They must concurrently file their own I-485 application with the principal applicant or demonstrate that principal applicant’s petition was filed (by showing the I-485 receipt of the principal applicant);
- They are currently the principal applicant’s spouse or child (evidence of relationship is required. For example: marriage certificate, birth certificate or adoption decree reflecting principal applicant is as parent);
- They must have derivative refugee under principal applicant’s status;
- They must be physically present in the United States at the time of filing the green card application;
- They must have been physically present in the United States for at least one year after their admission as derivative refugee at the time they file the application for green card;
- Derivative Refugee status has not been terminated;
- Has not already received a green card;
- Is admissible to the United States for green card status or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief; and
- The principal refugee has not become a U.S. citizen yet.
The green card application documents for derivative refugees are similar as the ones for principal applicants.
4. How long would it take to receive my refugee green card?
The average processing time for refugee green card application is between 8 to 30 months from the date of the filing of the application.
5. Can I work while I wait for the refugee green card?
If you entered the United States as a refugee, you are authorized employment as part of your refugee status. The inspector at the port of entry where you entered the country should have issued you a Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record, stamped to indicate “Employment Authorized.” USCIS will issue you an employment authorization document (EAD) either at the port of entry or as soon as possible after your entry into the United States.
A refugee can apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) with the Form I-94 and an official government-issued identification document containing a photo (such as an unexpired foreign passport or driver’s license). Once you have your SSN, you can use it to show your employer that you are eligible to be employed. You can also use an EAD issued to you by USCIS to prove your eligibility. When you first apply for a job in the United States, your Form I-94 is proof of your work authorization for up to 90 days.
6. Can I become a U.S. citizen with refugee green card?
Refugees may apply for citizenship or naturalization 5 years after the date of their admission to lawful permanent residence. The good news is that upon the approval of the refugee green card, refugees are admitted to lawful permanent residence as of the date of their initial arrival in the United States under refugee status.
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