Frequently Asked Questions

What is a refugee?
How do people become recognized as refugees?

What options do refugees have?
What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?
How many refugees are there and where do they come from?
Where do Sacramento’s refugees come from?
What is Church World Service?
How can I bring my refugee friend of family member to the United States?


What is a refugee?
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” One of the many challenges refugees face is not having legal status in the country they have fled to; therefore, they are not legally able to work, own a home, or access education and other social services.

How do people become recognized as refugees?
There is a difference between being a refugee and being admitted into the refugee resettlement program. Refugees typically apply for refugee status while living in refugee camps outside their country of origin. They must prove to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that they cannot go home because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They must then go through a lengthy process of applying for resettlement in a third country such as the United States. Learn more.


What options do refugees have?

Refugees have three options. In an ideal case, the source of their persecution is resolved and they are able to return to their country of origin. The second best option is that a neighboring country is willing and able to grant them legal status, enabling them to work legally, access social services, and create a new life for themselves in an area with a shared cultural and linguistic history. The third option is that refugees can be resettled in a third country, such as the U.S., Canada, or Western Europe. Less than 1% of the world's refugee population gains access to this third option.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?
Refugees and asylees are very similar in that both must show that they have been persecuted in the past and/or have a well-founded fear of future persecution. The main difference between a refugee and an asylee is that a refugee applies for and obtains status outside the U.S., while an asylee typically enters the U.S. and then applies for asylee status while in the U.S. Despite the difference in terminology, once granted status, refugees and asylees are eligible to receive the same types of support.


It is important to understand that refugees and asylees are here legally and have to go through an extensive background check and application process. They have the right to work, they must pay taxes, and they are legally bound to the same laws and standards as any other US resident.


How many refugees are there and where do they come from?
The World Refugee Survey reports that there are more than 13 million refugees worldwide. In 2009, the United States resettled over 70,000 refugees; more than any other country in the world.


Each year, the President of the United States determines how many refugees may be admitted into the country. For 2011, it was determined that up to 80,000 refugees could be admitted to the US under the following regional allocations:
Africa: 15,000
East Asia: 19,000
Europe and Central Asia: 2,000
Latin America/Caribbean: 5,500
Near East/South Asia: 35,500
Unallocated Reserve: 3,000


Where do Opening Door’s refugees come from?
In Fiscal Year 2012 Opening Doors received 126 refugee clients from 6 different countries of origin.


More information about the backgrounds of the refugee populations we serve:
Refugees from Iraq
Refugees from Burma

Refugees from the Congo
Refugees from Iran
Refugees from Afghanistan

Refugees from Eritrea


What is Church World Service?
Since 1946, nearly half a million refugees from around the world have resettled in the United States under Church World Service (CWS) auspices. CWS and participating denominations work in partnership with local resettlement offices in 23 states to engage congregations as refugee cosponsors.


Church World Service is a national voluntary agency (VOLAG) that works directly with the International Office of Migration (IOM) to bring refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing, persecution or fear of persecution to international declared safety zones. Church World Services and other VOLAGS are the first point of contact in the United States for many refugees. They are responsible for greeting refugees and helping them throughout the resettlement process. As an affiliate of Church World Service, Opening Doors assists refugees and asylees in building a new life for themselves and their families.


How can I bring my refugee friend or family member to the United States?
Previously, if you entered the United States as a refugee or were granted asylum, you could file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) on behalf of immediate family members. However in October 2008, The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration suspended the AOR program indefinitely. Until the AOR program resumes, those people living in United States who wish to assist their friends and family members during resettlement may file a Refugee Interest Form.

It is important to understand that this can only be done AFTER a case has been generated by your friends or family members abroad. Please advise them to register with the UNHCR office in their country of refuge if they have not already done so. Once they have been issued an UNHCR or IOM case number, you can work with an ODI Caseworker to file a Refugee Interest Form. Once accepted, the form guarantees that they will be resettled with through the designated VOLAG.