News & Views

Refugee Resettlement: A Brief Overview and How Afghan Newcomers are Different

The federal Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980 established the structure and process for refugee resettlement in the United States that still exists today. A refugee or an asylee is someone who has fled their country of origin because they were persecuted for one of five reasons:

  • Political beliefs
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Ethnicity
  • Belonging to a particular social group

Below is an infographic that explains what happens and how the refugee resettlement process works in the U.S. This process happens here only after a refugee has been vetted overseas and approved for travel to their ultimate destination – the city or town where they will be resettled.



In looking at this infographic, note all the areas that have been highlighted in yellow. These areas are the parts of resettlement that are different, and extraordinarily challenging, with respect to the Afghan families that we are trying to welcome now.

First, because of the crisis in Afghanistan, we are not receiving two weeks’ notice of arrivals. We are receiving emails only a few hours before the families arrive. This means that we do not have time to find affordable housing before the family arrives. We need money to put arriving Afghans in hotels or Airbnbs for ten days to two weeks while we find affordable housing.

Second, while all refugees are provided with 90 days of federal money that they can use on rent, food and other necessities, due to the pandemic, housing costs in Philadelphia have skyrocketed. Prior to the pandemic we were able to find housing that cost the refugee between 10 and 15% of the federal monies that were given to them. Now, we can only find rents that are between 20 and 30% of those federal monies. We need money or landlords to help subsidize the housing that we find for incoming Afghans for the first three to six months that they are here. Landlords who might be interested in providing affordable housing to incoming Afghans can learn about doing so by attending the Renting to Refugees Virtual Event on September 22, 2021 at noon.

Third, because of the crisis, there are Afghans coming here who have been granted a different immigration legal status – something called humanitarian parole. This legal status is temporary and permits the immigrant to remain here while they petition for a more permanent legal status. But, it does not come with work authorization right away and there is no eligibility for free health insurance. We have been told that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will be given applications for work authorization priority and that the expected turn around time for work authorization is thirty days. However, at this time, we do not know whether this will happen and meanwhile, while humanitarian parolees will get a stipend for the first 90 days that they are in the country, if the work authorizations are delayed and the stipend runs out the situation will be dire as humanitarian parolees are not eligible for any safety net benefits. We therefore need folks to advocate with Congress to fix this problem by improving what humanitarian parole means for the recipient.

Fourth, while airport pick-ups are a regular  – and favorite – part of HIAS PA resettlement, because of the crisis, as already indicated, we will be getting only a few hours notice before we will need to get to the airport to pick-up the newcomers. Normally, we would rent a car or a van in order to do this but because of the pandemic, we have had increasing difficulty obtaining a car or van on short notice. We need volunteers with cars, willing to be contacted regarding an airport pick-up only a few hours before we have to be at the airport.

Fifth, while we have a small employment program that assists refugees and asylees in finding work, we don’t have the capacity to serve several dozens of refugees and asylees at one time. We need funding to expand our employment program quickly and we need employers interested in working with our clients to contact us regarding job opportunities. The opportunities, ideally, should include non-skilled opportunities for those with limited English proficiency as well as skilled employment for those who speak English well and are educated.

Sixth, we have an education program that provides English as a second language training but our capacity is not large enough to teach a sudden group of fifty or sixty students. We collaborate with many ESL providers across the city and therefore can refer many newcomers. But referring and teaching takes time. We need funding to increase our capacity to enroll our newcomers in ESL classes across the city as needed.

Finally, as indicated above, while refugees and asylees are eligible for social security numbers and public benefits including Medicaid, humanitarian parolees are not. As mentioned, advocate with Congress to fix this problem by improving what humanitarian parole means for the recipient.