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Refugees, Asylees and SIVs

What is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. More than half of all refugees worldwide come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

            UN Refugee Agency


What is an asylee?

An asylee is someone in the United States or at a port of entry who is found to be unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or the fear thereof must be based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

           – U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services


  • A refugee has been granted protected status before entering the United States. An asylee has been granted protected status after applying for it from within the United States. While their case is being evaluated, they are known as asylum seekers.
  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to seek and be granted asylum in other countries. The United States was a leader in the effort to draft the Declaration and until recently, was a defender of the right to seek asylum.


What is an SIV?

SIV refers to Special Immigrant Visa holders from Iraq and Afghanistan. For their service to the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan, certain Iraqis and Afghans are granted Special Immigrant status (SIV) overseas by the U.S. Department of State and are admitted to the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of State, in conjunction with the Voluntary agencies and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), assist with the resettlement and integration of SIVs into the U.S. An SIV is eligible for the same ORR benefits and services and for the same time period as a refugee, from the first day the SIV arrives in the U.S.

Learn more  about the Process for SIVs

           – U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement

  • The SIV program for Iraqis closed in 2014, leaving tens of thousands vulnerable to violence and persecution for their service to the United States. For Fiscal Year 2020, 4,000 of the 18,000 refugee slots are allocated to Iraqis.
  • SIVs for Afghans are authorized annually. In 2019, 4,000 of these visas were authorized. 
  • Congress has had a longtime bipartisan commitment to the SIV program. But for both Iraqis and Afghans, there is a backlog of tens of thousands of applicants, their lives are in danger.