Frequently Asked Questions


What is a refugee?

According to international law, a refugee is someone who has left their home country because they have a legitimate fear of persecution or death due to some aspect of their identity or beliefs, and whose government is unable or unwilling to protect them from this threat. There are around 50 million refugees in the world, 5 million from Syria. A very small minority of people who flee violence in their home country will be given the opportunity to resettle in a country outside of their region such as the US or Canada. In fiscal year 2016, the US accepted 85,000 refugees, including over 10,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country. For fiscal year 2017, which began October 1, 2016, the Obama administration raised the target to 110,000 refugees.

Are refugees allowed to work?

Yes. In fact, they are encouraged to apply for jobs as soon as they can. Some people come from middle-income country before the war, and some come from completely rural backgrounds, making the transition to US society and employment a big one. Many refugees are educated and trained. But that doesn't mean they can pick up where they left off; they still have to get credentials to qualify them to work in the US. Refugees frequently find work in low-skilled jobs, like hotel services, the food industry, and manufacturing. They interview and go through a job application process just as anyone else would.

Will any of the refugees be able to speak English?

Some absolutely will! Some will not. The refugee population is incredibly diverse. Some people will be coming from middle-class, urban backgrounds and may have learned English in school. Others may have no knowledge of English and need additional language support when they arrive. For these individuals, intensive language instruction will be provided.

What will the refugees most need when they arrive?

Upon arrival, refugees need assistance with housing, home furnishings, food, clothing, basic necessities, transportation to initial appointments (e.g. doctors, schools, social security office) and trainings, orientation to the US and Ithaca, and social support and friendship. Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga is partnering with IWR, BOCES, and other local groups to provide assistance in these areas.

When will refugees come to Ithaca?

Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga’s application was approved in early November. They are provided about two months from the approval to set up services and finalize their programs. Therefore, Ithaca expects to begin welcoming refugees for this fiscal year in January 2017. However, the city and Tompkins County at large have a rich history of welcoming refugees. For instance, in the past decade many Karen refugees from Burma have been resettled in our region.

How many refugees will be coming to Ithaca?

Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga (CCTT) was approved to resettle approximately 50 newly arrived refugees in fiscal year 2017. Ithaca has been pre-approved to settling refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, Iraq, Syria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ukraine, however it is possible that refugees from other countries will be resettled here. About half of refugees resettled in the United States are children, and we anticipate that the majority of families placed with CCTT will be families.

Why/how was Ithaca selected as a refugee resettlement community?

Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga (CCTT) applied to resettle refugees in Ithaca through the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services Program as a suboffice of Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. The USCCB and the US Department of State have signed a standard cooperative agreement for the fiscal year 2017, which specifies the services CCTT will provide each refugee. CCTT’s application included information about Ithaca’s welcoming atmosphere, diversity, and cultural and linguistic assets.

What is the U.S. Refugee Reception and Placement Program?

The US has a long history of resettling persons fleeing violence or facing persecution in their home countries. The current US refugee Reception and Placement (R&P) program was established by Congress through the Refugee Act of 1980. The program was designed as a partnership between government and nonprofit resettlement agencies with the goal of easing the resettlement process by providing new refugees support, including short-term cash, medical assistance and social services, until they became self-sufficient in their new communities.

Each refugee approved for resettlement in the US is sponsored by one of nine resettlement agencies that partner with the US Department of State on the R&P program:
Church World Service
• Episcopal Migration Ministries
• Ethiopian Community Development Council
• HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)
• International Rescue Committee
• Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
• US Conference of Catholic Bishops
• US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
• World Relief

These agencies are responsible for placing refugees with their affiliate offices and providing resettlement services during the refugees’ first months. While some are religiously affiliated, sponsor agencies serve refugees from all backgrounds and are not permitted to proselytize. Initial services provided upon arrival include housing, clothing, food, an orientation to the community, and social, medical, and employment services.

Sponsor agencies contribute significant cash and in-kind resources to supplement US Government funding for the R&P program, and coordinate with local volunteer organizations to delivery services. In Ithaca, Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga are partnering with IWR and other organizations.

How are refugees vetted?

The refugee screening process is the most intensive vetting process for persons entering the US. Three quarters of refugees accepted by the US are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The other 25% are by direct petition (such as translators and others who worked with the US military in Iraq or Afghanistan). For the majority, the process begins with a refugee identifying him or herself to UNHCR. This United Nations agency is responsible for registering asylum seekers around the world and providing aid until they are resettled abroad or able to return home. Registering as a refugee with UNHCR involves in-depth interviews, home country reference checks, and often biological screening. Among those who pass background checks, the most vulnerable cases are selected for overseas resettlement. When a refugee is referred to the US, our government does its own intensive screening, drawing on the expertise of nine different government agencies. Additional screening procedures are in place for refugees from certain countries, including Syria. If resettlement is deemed appropriate, the agencies will determine where the refugee will be placed. This step takes into account existing family in the US and community resources, including employment possibilities, access to medical treatment, and linguistic resources. The process from referral to arrival in the United States can take two years or longer.

How long can refugees stay in the U.S. and are they allowed to become citizens?

Refugees may stay in the U.S. indefinitely, as long as they abide by the provisions of resettlement. They must apply for permanent residence (commonly referred to as a Green Card) after being in the US for one year. They are eligible to apply for citizenship after five years.