The U.S. Refugee Program and the 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
To put that more simply, a refugee is a target for persecution for the above five reasons, in his/her home country.
The Procedure for Refugee Resettlement
People displaced from their own countries who have fled to other countries are interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If they meet the definition provided above, are unable to return to their own countries, and are unable to resettle in the country where they have taken refuge, their names are forwarded for third country resettlement. One of the countries accepting refugees for resettlement is the U.S.
Applicants for overseas resettlement are presented to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If the Department of Homeland Security finds them eligible for the U.S. Refugee Program, then they are referred to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for travel assistance. Like other immigrants, refugees have to get medical clearance prior to arrival. They are generally provided cultural orientation to life in the U.S. prior to arrival. Once all security and health checks are complete they are booked on a flight to the U.S.
Under a grant from the Department of State, one of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), also called Voluntary Agencies (Volags), in the U.S. agrees to be the refugee's sponsor. The Volag provides resettlement services for the first 90 days in the U.S.
In addition to those designated as refugees, the national refugee program also serves the following:
Asylees - Individuals granted asylum in the U.S.
Cuban/Haitian Entrants (including Cuban Parolees) – Certain Cuban and Haitian entrants who have been either granted parole status the by the Department of Homeland Security; or have an application for asylum pending and with respect to whom a final, non-appealable, and legally enforceable order of deportation or exclusion has not been entered.
Amerasians - Those from Vietnam who are admitted to the U.S. as immigrants pursuant to section 584 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1988.
Victims of Human Trafficking (and certain family members) – Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) those who have been trafficked into the US, and who have subsequently received certification from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants (SIV) – A category of Special Immigrants: Interpreters and translators of Iraqi or Afghan nationality who have worked directly with the United States armed forces or under Chief of Mission authority, and who have experienced ongoing serious threats as a consequence of this employment.