Security Measures Already in Place for Refugees Resettling in the U.S.

Posted on November 25, 2015

Syrian refugees

Amidst the tragic events occurring in Paris and beyond, our society has responded with knee-jerk reactions that don’t fully consider the processes put in place to protect U.S. citizens while showing compassion to the world’s most vulnerable populations. CNNC Research fellows want to ensure that our community has access to facts about the processes that all refugees go through prior to resettlement in the U.S.

Get the Facts: CNNC Refugee Fact Checker Security

Refugees and asylum seekers are not the same. A refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside of 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.[1]

An asylum-seeker is “someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.[2] When large masses of people flee a country simultaneously, international agencies cannot conduct individual asylum interviews for everyone immediately—this can result in large groups of asylum-seekers being declared “prima facie” refugees; however, all prima facie refugees will go through individual screening prior to being considered for resettlement to the U.S. Because of its geographic location, the U.S. will never experience large numbers of prima facie refugees arriving from Syria.


  1. Obtaining “refugee” or “prima facie refugee” status does not automatically make an individual eligible for resettlement to the U.S.
  2. All refugees resettling to the U.S. must be recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and be invited by the U.S. Government.
  3. To qualify for refugee status, applicants cannot have engaged in any fighting or terrorist activities.
  4. Security and medical checks must be completed before a refugee will be considered for resettlement in the U.S.
  5. Refugees are individually vetted through background check processes involving the Departments of State, Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI amongst other national intelligence agencies.
  6. Background checks use biographic and biometric data including finger prints and retina scans.
  7. The average background check takes between 18 and 24 months to complete.
  8. Syrian refugee applicants already have to go through additional security measures known as the “Syria Enhanced Review.”
  9. S. intelligence agencies rely on their own intelligence and the intelligence of their allies; they do not rely solely on source country data which may be inadequate or unreliable.
  10. Since 1975, 3 million refugees have been safely resettled in 180 locations across the U.S.[3]
  11. If there is any doubt that an individual poses a security concern, he or she will not be selected for resettlement and are removed from further refugee processing.

[1] UNHCR. (2015). The 1951 Refugee Convention. Found at:

[2] UNHCR. (2015). Asylum-Seekers. Found at:

[3] U.S. Department of State. (2015). Background Briefing on Refugee Screening and Admissions. Found at:

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