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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

The ABCs of Immigration - Refugee Processing
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

This week the Sentate Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing into possible problems with the US refugee program. Since September 11th, refugee processing has been featured in many news reports, and we thought this would be an appropriate time to provide information about the procedures by which a person is granted refugee status and admitted to the US.

The first step in refugee processing is the annual designation of a limit on the number of refugees that will be admitted during the year. In most years, the President announces this number shortly before the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1. Last year, however, with the review of the refugee program in the wake of the events of September 11th, the 70,000 limit was not announced until December. The second step is obtaining classification as a refugee, and the final step is being admitted to the US.

To be classified as a refugee, the person must make an application for refugee status at an INS office overseas. The INS has designated a number of US Consulates to accept refugee applications, because there are a limited number of INS offices overseas. These Consulates are located in Djibouti, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Athens, Cairo, Gaborne, Havana, Hong Kong, Belgrade, Islamabad, Khartoum, Mexico City, Jakarta, Frankfurt, Karachi, Kinshasa, Panama City, Kuala Lumpur, Geneva, New Delhi, Lusaka, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Madrid, Mogadishu, San Jose, Naha, Rome, Nairobi, Seoul, Vienna, Singapore and Tokyo. Other consulates are not able to process refugee applications without obtaining special permission from the State Department, and are instructed to refer cases to either the local government or to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The refugee application consists of fingerprints, biographic information, and a Form I-590, Registration for Classification as Refugee. In most cases, applicants are assisted in preparing their applications by various nongovernmental organizations. After receiving the application, the INS or State Department runs a security check on each applicant, as well as an investigation into whether they have a criminal record. If the application was filed with the INS, and the applicant appears eligible for refugee status, they are interviewed by the INS. If the application was submitted to the State Department, applications are put through initial review, and when there are a sufficient number of people waiting for interviews, the INS is notified. The agency then sends personnel, known as “circuit riders,” to the consulates where the interviews will be conducted.

After passing the interview portion, the applicant is required to take a medical examination. The section of the Immigration and Nationality Act dealing with refugees allows for the waiver of health related grounds of inadmissibility, but given the public health implications of many diseases, these waivers are often difficult to obtain.

In addition to the medical exam, the refugee applicant must obtain a sponsor. In most cases, the sponsor is a nongovernmental organization, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and Catholic Social Services. Among the duties of the sponsor are to ensure that the refugee will be provided with transportation to the US, and that once in the US, will be provided with assistance in resettling here.

When the refugee applies for admission to the US, they enter not as a permanent resident, but in a unique conditional status. They are allowed to work, and unlike most immigrants, can receive a variety of social services such as food stamps and healthcare. After one year in the US, they are allowed to apply for adjustment of status.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com


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