How to Obtain a Refugee Green Card

You may be eligible for a refugee green card if granted refugee status in the United States. If approved, you can also file for this type of green card for your spouse and children.

This article covers the refugee green card process and what it entails. 

Key Takeaways

  • You can only get a refugee green card if granted refugee status in the U.S.
  • Per immigration law, you must apply for permanent residency one year after being granted refugee status.
  • Refugee is an individual who meets the requirements set by the 1951 Refugee Convention.

What Is a Refugee Green Card?

A refugee green card is a type of green card awarded to individuals who have been granted refugee status in the United States.

A refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, or violence. 

Refugee Green Card Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for a refugee green card, you must:

  • have been granted refugee status in the United States;
  • have lived in the United States for at least a year since the date you received refugee status;
  • have maintained your refugee status, meaning it was not terminated; 
  • be physically present in the United States when filing for a refugee green card;
  • not have lawful permanent resident status already; and
  • be admissible to the U.S. for a green card or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or any immigration relief.

How to Apply for a Green Card With Refugee Status

If you are applying for a refugee green card as the principal applicant, follow these steps:

  • Fill out Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
  • Provide proof of your admission to the United States as a refugee (for example, your Form I-194 showing the date you arrived in the U.S. as a refugee);
  • Provide proof of one-year physical presence in the United States;
  • Provide two passport-style photographs;
  • Provide a copy of your government-issued photo ID;
  • If available, provide a copy of your birth certificate;
  • If available, provide a copy of your passport page with a nonimmigrant visa;
  • If available, provide a copy of your passport page with an admission or parole stamp.

Applying for a Refugee Green Card as the Derivative

If you intend to apply for a refugee green card based on your relationship with the principal applicant, such as an unmarried child under 21 or the spouse, you will need to follow these steps: 

  • Fill out Form I-485;
  • Prove that you are currently the spouse or child of the principal applicant;
  • Prove that you were admitted to the United States as an accompanying derivative of the principal applicant or as a following-to-join beneficiary;
  • Prove that you are physically present in the United States at the time of filing for adjustment of status;
  • Prove that you have been living in the United States for at least a year at the time of filing for adjustment of status.

In addition to the steps above, you must have valid and active refugee status, meaning it has not been terminated.

You must be admissible to the United States. If not admissible, you must qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility or any other kind of immigration relief. 

The documents required are almost identical to those of the principal applicant. However, you must prove your relationship. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept any of the following as proof of relationship:

  • Your adoption decree;
  • Your marriage certificate confirming your status as the spouse of the principal applicant;
  • Your birth certificate confirming your relationship as a biological child of the derivative applicant.

Refugee Green Card Filing Fee

There are no government filing fees for a refugee green card. In other words, you can file Form I-485 and attend your biometrics appointment without paying any government fees. You may need to pay a fee if you seek professional help filing for a green card as a refugee.

The professional can be an immigration filing service, an experienced immigration lawyer, or a an accredited representative of the USCIS.

Refugee Green Card Processing Time

The processing time for refugee green cards, as of September 2022, is around 14 months. However, it is important to note that the processing times for these petitions are constantly changing.

You can use the case processing tool on the USCIS website to find out when to expect the government agency to review your petition. 

Green Card Application Process, Explained | Read More

Refugee Green Card FAQs

Can I Legally Work While My Refugee Green Card Is Still Pending?

Individuals who have been admitted into the United States as refugees can work legally while their employment-related paperwork is still pending. You do not need an Employment Authorization Document to work if you are a refugee.

The U.S. government expedites employment documents for refugees. Once your employment authorization card has been processed, you will receive it via the refugee resettlement organization responsible for your resettlement in the U.S. 

In most cases, your I-94 document will be enough to prove your eligibility for employment. As a refugee, your I-94 Arrival Departure record will have an ‘Employment Authorized’ stamp. Show this document to potential employers to prove your eligibility for employment.

The steps above only apply to individuals who have been admitted into the United States as refugees. Asylum seekers already living in the United States need to apply for employment authorization along with their application for asylum status.

Read More: How To Get An Asylee Green Card

When Can I Petition for My Family Members to Join Me in the United States?

First, you must have had your refugee status for at least two years. Secondly, keep in mind that you can only invite your spouse and unmarried children under age 21. 

When Can Refugees Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

Refugees are usually eligible for U.S. citizenship five years after obtaining their lawful permanent residence. Here is a more detailed guide on applying for citizenship as a refugee. 

What Is the Difference Between a Refugee and an Asylee?

The terms ‘refugee’ and ‘asylee’ are often used interchangeably. However, under immigration laws, these two terms are different from each other, although both refugees and asylees seek some form of protection. 

A refugee is an individual who has been admitted into the country because they meet certain criteria as described in the 1951 Refugee Convention. In most cases, these individuals fleeing war, human rights abuse, and other injustices have been granted permission to enter the United States. 

An asylee is usually an individual already residing in the United States but seeking protection from persecution in their country based on race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a particular social group or political opinion.

Can I Travel Overseas as a Refugee?

If you plan on traveling outside the United States briefly and then return to your refugee status, you will need to apply for a Refugee Travel Document by filing out Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. 

However, it is advisable to speak with an experienced immigration attorney before traveling outside the United States. It is also important to avoid traveling back to the country you were initially fleeing from. Doing so could jeopardize your status as a refugee in the United States. 

What Does ‘Follow-to-Join’ Mean?

This term refers to a situation where your spouse and children obtain status as U.S. permanent residents even though they initially did not have status when you did. It is a way of saying that you can petition for your family members to obtain green cards once yours is approved and you meet other requirements set by the USCIS.


  • Commit To Citizenship Staff

    Commit To Citizenship‘s team consists of individuals who have successfully immigrated to the United States and have learned how to avoid common mistakes in filling out immigration applications. Our team works closely with immigration lawyers to ensure that all content provided on our website is up-to-date and accurate. We offer guidance on a range of immigration topics, including green cards, diversity visas, and DACA.