Green Cards for Refugees and Their Benefits

Being granted refugee status can be a huge relief for those seeking protection from persecution in their home country. Every year thousands of refugees enter the United States fleeing from persecution in their home countries related to race, religion, nationality, and political and social expression.

A person may qualify for refugee status if they are located outside of the U.S., demonstrate that they have been persecuted, are not resettled in another country, and are admissible to the United States.

If you qualify for refugee status, you will be permitted to enter the U.S., which may eventually lead to permanent residency and even U.S. citizenship. Being granted refugee status will give you the legal protection to enter and remain in the United States. However, to make your stay long-term, you must apply to adjust your status to a permanent resident after one year.

What Is a Refugee Green Card?

A refugee green card is the granting of permanent residence to a refugee in the United States. While you are not technically required to apply for permanent residency if you are in the United States as a refugee, it may be in your best interest to do so.

If things change in your home country, you may no longer qualify as a refugee, which would mean you would have to leave the United States.

Additionally, a green card offers you additional benefits and is the first step on the path to U.S. citizenship. To apply for a green card as a refugee, you must file Form I-485, Adjustment of Status. If your family is in the country with you as refugees, each member of your household will need to file a separate application. The filing fee for Form I-485 is waived for refugees.

Eligibility Criteria for a Refugee Green Card

You will be eligible to apply for your refugee green card if you:

  • Have had a physical presence in the U.S. for at least one year after your admission into the country as a refugee
  • Have not had your refugee admission terminated
  • Have not already acquired a green card in another manner

Benefits of a Refugee Green Card

One of the primary benefits of applying for refugee status in the U.S. is that you will not have to worry about suddenly losing your right to remain in the country. As a refugee without a green card, you could lose your refugee status if conditions change in your home country. The result could be that you get ordered to leave the United States.

Another major benefit of becoming a permanent resident is that doing so is a step on the path to citizenship. United States citizenship will provide you with many additional rights, including the ability to:

  • Vote
  • Run for elected office
  • Obtain a U.S. passport
  • Apply for federal jobs
  • Obtain government benefits
  • Apply for federal grants and scholarships

Obtaining a refugee green card will also make it easier for you to travel out of the country. As a refugee without a green card, there is a possibility to travel outside of the country for a brief period. However, you must submit Form I-131, Application for Travel Document to protect your refugee status and remain eligible for a refugee green card.

How to Apply for a Refugee Green Card

In order to apply for a refugee green card, you will need to submit Form I-485, Adjustment of Status, along with other supporting documents, to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). As a refugee, you will not have to pay any application fees when applying for permanent residency.

Required Documents and USCIS Forms for Refugee Green Cards

In addition to Form I-485, you will need to submit:

  • Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative (to be filled out by your immigration lawyer if using one)
  • Vaccination section of Form I-693, Report of Medical Exam and Vaccination Record (in a sealed envelope and signed by a civil surgeon)
  • Fully filled out Form I-693 (if medical grounds of inadmissibility were noted when you arrived in the U.S. or if you received your refugee status through Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition)
  • Certified copy of your criminal record (if you have ever been arrested, detained, or convicted)
  • Evidence of refugee status and eligibility (copy of Form I-94 or your Employment Authorization Document)
  • Proof that you have lived in the U.S. for at least the last year
  • Two passport-style photos
  • Proof of any legal name change since you received refugee status (if applicable)

Any foreign language documents you submit will need to include a complete English translation.

What Happens After Applying?

Once you submit Form I-485, along with your supporting documents, USCIS will send you a notice that your application has been received within a few weeks. After several more weeks, you will receive notice of the date of your biometrics appointment. At this appointment, you will be fingerprinted, your photo will be taken, and you will provide your signature.

Finally, you will receive a written decision on your application. In most cases, an interview will not be required. However, it is a possibility if USCIS has any questions about your application or eligibility.

If your permanent residency is granted, your adjustment of status date will be backdated to the day you entered the country. This will mean that you already have at least a year of permanent residency towards the five years required when applying for U.S. citizenship.

Processing Time for Refugee Green Cards

Don’t expect a quick turnaround on your green card application. The immigration process is never quick, and the processing time for Form I-485 is no exception. For a refugee-based green card application, you can expect to wait between eight and 14 months to receive your permanent residency after you apply.

Bringing Family Members to the U.S. as a Refugee

Refugees in America have the possibility to bring their family members over to join them from abroad. To do so, you can file Form I-730, Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition. This will allow you to bring your spouse and unmarried children under 21 to the United States. This form must be submitted within two years of your arrival unless exemptions apply for humanitarian reasons.

Another option is to file an Affidavit of Relationship for your spouse, unmarried children under 21, or parents. This affidavit is used to reunite refugees and asylees with relatives who are refugees but outside of the United States.

What to Do if More Than One Year Has Passed in Refugee Status

If you wait significantly longer one year to apply for your refugee green card, things could get challenging. While USCIS often overlooks a delayed filing, as long as you have not committed any deportable offenses and conditions have not changed in your home country, waiting to apply for an adjustment of status does come with a certain level of risk.

Applying as soon as you become eligible is the best way to protect your right to remain in the country. Let ImmigrationDirect help you complete your Adjustment of Status form and start you on the path to U.S. citizenship.

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