The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as a person who flees his or her country and is unwilling or unable to return due to a well-founded fear. This fear is based on persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or for political opinion. Though the United States has a long history of providing asylum for displaced persons, the refugee program officially began with the Refugee Act of 1980, which provided the legal framework for the United States’ admissions program and set federal standards for resettlement services. Refugees account for the majority of those resettled in Tennessee and in the U.S. who are eligible for services through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). They must adjust their status to Legal Permanent Resident after one year and can naturalize to U.S. Citizenship after five years of living in the U.S. For more information and statistics regarding Tennessee’s refugee arrivals, please visit our Reports and Data page.
An asylee, like a refugee, is a person who flees his or her country and is unwilling or unable to return due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted. This persecution is based on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, asylees arrive in the United States on their own as students, tourists, businesspeople, or without any immigration status at all. After they have entered the country or reached a port of entry, they apply for and may receive a grant of asylum, which acknowledges that they meet the legal definition of a refugee and are permitted to stay in the United States. Asylees are eligible for the same services as refugees from the date they are granted asylum and may apply for Legal Permanent Resident status after one year and U.S. citizenship after five years in the U.S. Learn more about asylum status in the U.S.
A Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holder is an Iraqi or Afghan national who has been employed by the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator or interpreter or has been employed by a contractor of the United States government overseas. They are eligible for resettlement in the U.S. when they are in danger in their own country because they aided the U.S. government or Armed Forces. SIVs are eligible for the same resettlement benefits as refugees. They arrive with Legal Permanent Resident status and can apply for United States citizenship after five years.
Victims of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking, a form of slavery, is a violent crime and a public health concern. Victims of human trafficking have been forced to work or provide services (labor trafficking) or forced to engage in commercial sex (sex trafficking) by force, fraud, or coercion. Minors induced in commercial sex are victims of human trafficking even if force, fraud, or coercion is not present.
Victims of human trafficking who are certified by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) are eligible for the same services as refugees. Generally, victims of trafficking who are served by TOR programs with ORR funding are trafficked into the United States from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe, and include men, women, and children.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to find help. You can also text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. Learn more at humantraffickinghotline.org.
A Cuban/Haitian entrant is a Cuban or Haitian national who is legally in the United States but has not yet received a permanent status. Cuban/Haitian entrants are eligible for the same services as refugees and can apply for Legal Permanent Resident status after one year and U.S. citizenship after five years in the U.S. Learn more about Cuban/Haitian Entrants.
An Amerasian is a child fathered by a United States citizen in Vietnam during conflict in that region, and who resettled in the United States under legislation enacted in December of 1987 commonly referred to as the “Amerasian Homecoming Act.” Amerasians are granted Legal Permanent Resident status under special provisions of the Immigrant and Nationality Act and are eligible for the same benefits as refugees.