A look at the refugee-screening process.

Share story

The resettlement application process:

THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES The majority of potential refugee referrals for the United States are delivered by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, serving as an intermediary between the refugee and the United States. Those attempting to come into the country can also apply on their own, though only about 25 percent do so, a State Department official said during a background briefing for reporters in September. The rest go through this U.N. agency, which also screens refugees before they even come across the radar of a U.S. official.

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (DHS) Refugees coming from Syria immediately trigger an additional layer of security, known as the “Syria Enhanced Review.” A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official reviews each refugee’s case before scheduling an interview. If certain criteria are found during the review, the agency escalates the case to its Fraud Detection and National Security Division (FDNS), according to FDNS acting Associate Director Matthew Emrich’s testimony at an October Senate hearing.

IN-PERSON SCREENING Once a Syrian refugee’s case is reviewed, a field team conducts an interview to determine whether she or he should legally be considered a refugee, the State Department official said in September. At that time, USCIS takes fingerprints and a photo of the person applying to come to the U.S.; this data passes through an FBI database. DHS also screens the person against a terrorist and criminal watchlist, as well as a database of previous run-ins with immigration officials.

SECURITY CHECKS Many federal agencies get involved with vetting Syrian refugees, including the Department of Defense. Most of the security details are classified, though Emrich’s testimony said further checks involve the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center and interagency checks from the National Counterterrorism Center.

HEALTH SCREENING While the security checks take place, the refugees undergo health assessments for diseases that could prevent them from entering the United States. Tuberculosis is the most common disease of concern the U.S. officials find, according to the State Department official on background. Additional screenings include syphilis, gonorrhea and leprosy. Testing positive for one of these diseases doesn’t automatically disqualify refugees from coming to the United States, but it does delay the process while they undergo treatment.