Even after receiving a UNHCR referral to come to the United States, some refugees’ applications are denied by the U.S. government agency that must accept them (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS).
This can happen for any of a variety of reasons: Perhaps USCIS concludes from its interview of an applicant that the applicant’s circumstances changed some time after UNHCR submitted the case, so that the applicant no longer needs “resettlement.” Perhaps USCIS finds new information about an applicant’s military background suggesting that he is inadmissible to the United States on security-related grounds for which no “waiver” is available. Or perhaps USCIS simply disagrees with UNHCR’s determination that an applicant is a refugee, concluding instead that the applicant’s persecution claim is not credible.
What can someone who receives a USCIS denial of refugee admission do about it?
No Right of Appeal from USCIS Denial of Refugee Admission
You cannot appeal the denial of an application for refugee status (or resettlement) in the United States. However, other options exist, as described next.
Requesting USCIS Review
You can ask UNHCR to request that USCIS take a second look. You will need either to demonstrate that the officer who decided the case made a significant error (for example: a clear mistake regarding the identity of your social group, if you claimed persecution on the basis of membership in a particular social group), or to submit new information and make any necessary change addressing the reason why the case was denied the first time.
You should make this request no more than 90 days after the denial, unless there is a good excuse why you cannot meet the deadline. (For more information on this process, read USCIS’s Request for Review Tip Sheet.)
USCIS will give you only one chance to get the case reviewed. However, you might, in rare circumstances, be able to obtain assistance from the agency’s Ombudsman (by filing Form DHS-7001) if you find a problem with the review process.
What to Do If USCIS Review Is Unavailable
If USCIS review does not help or is not available, UNHCR may resubmit a refugee application to another resettlement country. This is more likely to happen if USCIS’s denial was not due to problems that go to the core of the refugee claim.
In other words, the application will probably be resubmitted if it was denied due to something like inadmissibility grounds that apply solely under the immigration laws of the United States — not under the laws of other resettlement countries.
If, by contrast, the denial raises questions about your need for resettlement, credibility, or history or fear of persecution, then UNHCR will need to reassess the case in-depth — even to re-interview you — before deciding whether a resubmission is warranted.
Fortunately, if UNHCR does choose to resubmit an application to an alternative resettlement country, the agency will probably not share the case denial history with that country — so as not to create any unnecessary prejudice against the applicant. Note, however, that a history of multiple application denials may lead UNHCR to conclude that resettlement is no longer a viable or appropriate option for you. In such instance, the agency would recommend alternative measures, such as local integration in the country to which you first fled or voluntary return to the home country.