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After 5 Years Refugees Can Become Citizens, Says State Dept. Official

(AP Photo/Belal Darder)

After five years in the United States as part of a resettlement program, refugees can apply for U.S. citizenship, according to a State Department official.

Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said his bureau has provided more than $3 billion in fiscal year 2015 for refugees.

“We do this chiefly by working with the UN and other international organizations in this field. We fund the UN refugee agency, the international committee of the Red Cross, the international organization for migration and others,” said Henshaw during a New America discussion, “After Paris: The Refugee Crisis.”

According to Henshaw, the U.S. also sends relief funds through UNICEF and other nongovernmental charities.

“These operations deliver essential lifesaving assistance – food, shelter, medical care and clean water and sanitation. They protect the rights of the displaced, care for survivors of sexual violence, reunify families, educate children and youth and help people gain the skills they need to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Henshaw explained that the refugee resettlement program identifies the world’s “most vulnerable refugees” and brings them to U.S. soil for a “fresh start.”

“Most refugees get jobs, enroll their children in school, pay taxes, revitalize communities, and after five years may choose to take the test to become naturalized American citizens,” he said.

“Next year, we will accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria. Some critics say this number is too low. Others oppose admitting Syrians, arguing that terrorists may seek to enter the United States as refugees. The U.S. government is taking every possible precaution to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he added.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the U.S. government does not charge any application fees to refugees for resettlement. However, USCIS charges fees for visas and green cards status applications. For example, the fee for eligible immigrants to apply for a green card is $985 plus an additional biometrics fee of $85 for immigrants between the ages of 14 and 78.

Henshaw said specially trained Homeland Security officials screen refugee applicants through extensive security checks and “lengthy in-person interviews.”

“We are determined to do more to help the world’s refugees, which is why we will increase the number we will resettle here annually from 70,000, the ceiling from the past 3 years, to 85,000 in fiscal year 2016 and 100,000 in fiscal year 2017,” he said.

Henshaw called for the U.S. government to do everything it can to “prevent life from being so bleak that risking death seems preferable.” He also said the United Nations is seeking more than $19 billion for humanitarian assistance and has only received half.

“How can we close the gap and meet such vast needs? Private giving could help. Private donors may be hesitant because manmade crises can be messy and complex,” he said.