Afghan Refugees

In August 2021, over 100,000 Afghan nationals were evacuated from Afghanistan. Evacuees included individuals who worked with the U.S. in Afghanistan, their family members and other vulnerable groups. Some were quickly resettled with relatives in the U.S. with Legal Permanent Residence (LPR or “green card”) status. Others have been temporarily housed on military bases through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), which created communal living facilities called “Safe Havens” to house refugees while they await resettlement. Before Afghan refugees can be safely resettled, they must undergo medical screening and processing. For more information about the screening process, please refer to our Clinical Resources page.

At present, the goal is to resettle the Afghan refugees currently in Safe Havens by mid-February of 2022. So far, approximately 800 refugees have been resettled in Washington state, with the relocation efforts focused in five areas: Seattle (King County), Bellingham (Whatcom County), Tacoma (Pierce County), Yakima and Spokane. Afghan refugees currently awaiting relocation hold one of three legal statuses:

  1. Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants: Applicants are or were employed by the U.S. and will receive immigrant visas. Their family members are also eligible.
  2. Humanitarian Parolees: This status provides temporary entrance to the U.S. for either humanitarian reasons or as the result of an emergency. This designation has been used to rapidly relocate individuals who will likely seek asylum.
  3. SQ/SI Parolees: Individuals with pending applications for SIV status.

All three of the above refugee statuses are eligible for initial benefits from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), including Refugee Cash Assistance, Refugee Medical Assistance and the ORR Matching Grant Program (benefits available for up to eight months from eligibility date). In addition, refugees with the above statuses will be eligible for certain services, including special programs and employment assistance (services available up to five years from eligibility date).

February 1, 2022 – According to an announcement from USCIS, Afghan Nationals who arrived in the US under Operation Allies Welcome and are filing for an adjustment of status will not be required to undergo another medical examination or file Form I-693 with their application if the following conditions are met:

  • They underwent an immigration medical examination by a panel physician outside the United States and were not inadmissible on medical grounds
  • The report of the medical examination is in their file
  • The immigration medical examination was completed no more than 4 years before the date of their application for adjustment of status
  • No evidence suggests they have acquired a Class A medical condition after entry to the United States

For more details, please see the USCIS Policy Manual and Information for Afghans.


Resettlement FAQ

In the United States, the resettlement of refugees is managed by multiple government agencies, and the process can be complex. Below are answers to some common questions related to this process:

What is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. An immigrant is someone who leaves their own country and chooses to settle in another country.

What are the steps in the resettlement process for refugees?
  1. Security Screening

Agencies involved: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS)

  • Pre-screening by Resettlement Support Center (RSC) staff
  • On-site interview by USCIS Refugee Corps
  • Security clearance and fingerprinting
  1. Placement (30 to 90 days)

Agencies involved: State Department Bureau for Population and Refugees & Migration 

  • Placement allocation through nine national voluntary resettlement agencies (RAs)
  • Cultural orientation and departure processing
  • Initial reception and replacement (30 to 90 days in U.S.)
  1. Transition

Agencies involved: Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Settlement

  • Interim cash and medical assistance
  • Employment services, ESL, medical screening, recertification
  • Specialized programs

For more information, watch this seven-minute video from Switchboard: “Who are refugees and how do they arrive in the US?”


What is a Resettlement Agency (RA)?

A Resettlement Agency (RA) provides resettlement assistance and serves as the initial sponsor of a refugee entering the United States. These RAs contract with the U.S. Department of State to provide refugee services, such as reception, basic orientation, counseling, food, shelter and health services. Of the nine nationwide RAs, five are based in WA state. These are:

  1. International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  2. Diocese of Olympia
  3. Jewish Family Service
  4. Lutheran Community Services NW (offices in Tacoma and Vancouver, WA)
  5. World Relief (offices in Kent/Seattle, Spokane and Tri-Cities)
Who determines where refugees settle in the U.S. and how?

Where refugees resettle in the U.S. is determined by the RAs serving them and their network of community partners. If a refugee has family or contacts within the U.S. already, that may also play a factor in determining where individuals will resettle.


Additional Resources


Last Updated: 12/08/2021