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  • News: USCIS Posts Fact Sheet on Refugee Security Screening

    Fact Sheet: Refugee Security Screening

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from threats to public safety and national security, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These goals are not mutually exclusive.

    This fact sheet provides information about the security screening and background checks required by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The USRAP is an interagency effort involving a number of governmental and non-governmental partners both overseas and in the United States. Refugee applicants are subject to the highest degree of security screening and background checks for any category of traveler to the United States.

    All refugee applicants and their family members included in the application must complete and clear biographic and biometric security checks. Through close coordination with the federal law enforcement and intelligence communities, these checks are continually reviewed and enhanced to address specific populations that may pose particular threats.

    Refugee Processing

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identifies and refers many cases to the USRAP for resettlement and provides important information about the worldwide refugee situation.

    The Department of State (State) has overall coordination and management responsibility for the USRAP. Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs), under cooperative agreements with State, carry out administrative and processing functions, such as file preparation, data collection, and out-processing activities during the refugee admissions process. USCIS is responsible for conducting individual interviews with applicants to determine their eligibility for refugee status, including whether they meet the refugee definition and are otherwise admissible to the United States under U.S. law.

    General Refugee Process

    USRAP Screening

    USRAP screening includes both biometric and biographic checks, which occur at multiple stages throughout the process, including immediately before a refugee’s departure to the United States as well as upon arrival in the U.S.

    The screening of refugee applicants involves numerous biographic checks that are initiated by the RSCs and reviewed/resolved by USCIS. These include:

    • Department of State Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS)[1]
      CLASS name checks are initiated by DOS for all refugee applicants at the time of pre-screening by the the RSC. Name checks are conducted on the applicant’s primary names as well as any aliases. Responses are received prior to interview and possible matches to applicants are reviewed and adjudicated by USCIS Headquarters. Evidence of the response is forwarded for inclusion in the case file. If a new name or alias is identified at the interview, USCIS requests another CLASS name check on the new name, and places the case on hold until that response is received.
    • Security Advisory Opinion (SAO)[2]
      The SAO is a DOS-initiated biographic check conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence community partners. SAO name checks are initiated at the time of pre-screening by the RSC for the groups and nationalities designated by the U.S. government as requiring this higher level check. SAOs are processed, and a response must be received prior to finalizing the decision. If there is a new name or alias identified at the interview, USCIS requests that another SAO be conducted on the new name, and places the case on hold until that response is received.
    • Interagency Checks (IAC)
      The IAC consists of screening biographic data, including names, dates of birth and other data points of all refugee applicants within designated age ranges. This information is captured at the time of pre-screening and is provided to intelligence community partners. This screening procedure was initiated in 2008 and has expanded over time to include a broader range of holdings. These checks occur throughout the process.

    At the time of USCIS interview, USCIS staff collects fingerprints and initiates biometric checks. The biometric checks initiated by USCIS for refugee applicants include:

    • FBI Fingerprint Check through Next Generation Identification (NGI)
      Recurring biometric record checks pertaining to criminal history and previous immigration data.
    • DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT - f/n/a US-VISIT)
      A biometric record check related to travel and immigration history as well as immigration violations, and law enforcement and national security concerns. Enrollment in IDENT also allows CBP to confirm identity at the port of entry.
    • DoD Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA)’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS)
      A biometric record check of DoD holdings collected in areas of conflict (predominantly Iraq and Afghanistan). DoD screening began in 2007 for Iraqi applicants has now been expanded to all nationalities. CBP’s National Targeting Center-Passenger (NTC-P) conducts biographic vetting of all ABIS biometric matches (both derogatory and benign) against various classified and unclassified U.S. Government databases.

    USCIS Interview

    The USCIS refugee interview itself is a vital part of the refugee screening process. Highly trained USCIS officers conduct extensive interviews with each refugee applicant to elicit information about the applicant's admissibility and claim for refugee status. These officers have undergone specialized and extensive training on refugee law, grounds of inadmissibility, fraud detection and prevention, security protocols, interviewing techniques, credibility analysis, and country conditions research. Before deploying overseas, officers also receive additional training on the specific population that they will be interviewing, detailed country of origin information, and updates on any fraud trends or security issues that have been identified. Officers conducting interviews of Syrian applicants now undergo an expanded one-week training focusing on Syria-specific topics, including a classified intelligence briefing. During the interview, the officer develops lines of questioning to elicit information regarding any involvement in terrorist activity, criminal activity or the persecution/torture of others, and conducts a credibility assessment on each applicant.

    Controlled Application Review and Resolution Process (CARRP)

    During the adjudication of any USCIS benefit, if any national security concerns are raised, either based on security and background checks or personal interviews or other testimony, USCIS conducts an additional review through the internal CARRP process.

    Syria Enhanced Review

    USCIS’ Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate and Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) have collaborated to provide enhanced review of certain Syrian cases. This review involves FDNS providing intelligence-driven support to refugee adjudicators, including threat identification, lines of inquiry, monitoring watch lists and disseminating intelligence information reports on those applicants determined to present a national security threat.

    CBP Vetting

    Applicants approved for refugee resettlement must be inspected and determined admissible to the United States by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before being admitted as a refugee. CBP receives a manifest of all approved individuals who have made reservations to travel to the United States. CBP receives this manifest eight days before the scheduled travel. CBP performs initial vetting of the individuals before they arrive at a port of entry and conducts an inspection additional background checks of these individuals upon arrival at a U.S. Port of Entry.

    [1] CLASS is a State name-check database that posts use to access critical information for visa adjudication. The system contains records provided by numerous agencies and includes information on persons with visa refusals, immigration violations, criminal histories, and terrorism concerns, as well as intelligence information and child support enforcement data. In addition to containing information from DOS sources, sources for information in CLASS includes NCTC/TSC (terrorist watch lists), TECS, Interpol, DEA, HHS and FBI (extracts of the NCIC Wanted Person, Immigration Violator, Foreign Fugitive Files, VGTOF, and the Interstate Identification Index).

    [2] The Security Advisory Opinion process was implemented after September 11, 2001, to provide a mechanism for additional scrutiny to certain high-risk categories of individuals seeking visas to enter the U.S.

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