Resettlement in America
What happens when you are a refugee in America?
Arriving in the United States
When you first arrive in the United States, you will probably be greeted at the airport by volunteers from your resettlement agency. They will take you to your apartment. The organization that is helping you only has a small amount of money to find you a place to live. This means the apartment might be small and might only have a few things in it. American families probably donated household items, such as a bed and table, for your apartment.
You will have to learn how to use the new items in your apartment – for example, your fridge, microwave and washing machine. This page on basic skills has information to help you learn how to use these items. You can visit this page to learn about food and eating in the USA.
After you arrive, you will be assigned to a caseworker. This person will help you adjust to the USA. Your caseworker will probably be very busy helping other families, too. Your caseworker must follow the many rules of refugee resettlement. It is important to maintain a good relationship with your caseworker.
You will have to complete a lot of paperwork. This paperwork is required for you to receive money. Depending on what state you live in, you will receive a small amount of money for your family. This might be called Refugee Cash Assistance or it might be called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. You will probably also receive something called “food stamps” or SNAP. This is to pay for groceries. You can learn more about the benefits you might receive at this page on public benefits.
Everyone in your family will have to get medical examinations. You probably had a medical exam before you came to America. You and your children may have to get vaccinations to prevent you from getting diseases. To learn more about healthcare in the US, visit this page on the US medical system. If you have a medical problem, you should see a doctor during the first eight months you are in the US, because you have good medical insurance.
Enrolling your children in school
If you have children, you must enroll them in school. You can read this page on public schools to learn more about US schools. Most states require children ages 5 to 18 to attend school.
You may want, or need, to send younger children to preschool. There are also free programs called HeadStart and early Headstart for children who are too young for school.
Finding a job
Your resettlement agency and case manager will help you get a job. As a refugee, you can start working immediately by showing the entry stamp on your passport. The goal of the US resettlement program is “self-sufficiency.” This means the government wants you to get a job as soon as you can. You will probably be required to take the first job you are offered. You might not want to have this job. It is important to remember that you can keep looking for a better job. To learn more about finding a job or getting a better job, you can visit our career page.
Getting a Social Security number
You also have to apply for a Social Security number. Your caseworker will probably help you do this. This is a number that shows you can live in the US. When you work, some of your money is taken out of your paycheck as taxes and some for social security.
Learn how to drive
You will need to learn how to take the bus or how to drive. In the US, you must pass a test and earn your driver’s license in order to drive. You also have to pay for your car, insurance for your car, and the cost of maintenance.
It is very important that you focus on learning English. This is probably the most important thing you can do to help your family succeed. Your resettlement agency will probably sign you up for English classes. You can also take English classes online or find classes at other places in your community. It is also important to try to help your kids learn your native language.
Adjust to American culture
During all of this time, you will also be learning to adapt to American culture. You may face culture shock. It is important that you remember you culture is valuable and that you bring lots of assets with you to the United States. You can help teach Americans about your culture.
After one year, get a Green Card
One year after you have arrived in the US, you can apply for permanent residency (a green card). Your caseworker will probably help you apply.
After the first year, you will probably stop seeing your case worker. But, there are still lots of other organizations and people that can help you in the US. If you need help finding programs in your community, you can search our database of resources In Your City.
Moving to a new city
Sometimes, refugees decide they do not like the city they were resettled and they want to move to a new city. While there can be benefits to this if you can move closer to family or friends or somewhere with a good job, it can also be very hard. It is important to know that when you move, you have to reapply for your benefits. If you are thinking about moving to a new place, please read this page on moving to a new city before you move.
Finish high school and earn your GED
After your first year, in order to get a better job, you may also need to finish your education, especially if you did not finish high school in your country. The RCO has a free program to help you earn your high school equivalency diploma. You can visit this page to learn more about college and other educational opportunities in the USA.
Bring your family to the United States
You may also want to apply to bring other family members to America. In general, you need to apply to do this within the first two years you come to the USA. You can visit this page on family reunification to learn more or talk to your caseworker about it.