What are the differences between Priority 1, 2 and 3 refugee cases?

Some background about this question:

  • Section 207(a)(3) of the INA states that the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) shall allocate admissions among refugees “of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after appropriate consultation.”  Which individuals are “of special humanitarian concern” to the United States for the purpose of refugee resettlement consideration is determined through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program priority system. ((Report to Congress- Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2011.))
  • There are three priorities or categories of cases that have direct access to the USRAP (these people do not need to register first with UNHCR):
    • Priority 1 – Individual cases referred to the program because of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.
    • Priority 2 – Groups of cases designated as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.
    • Priority 3 – Individual cases from eligible nationalities granted access for purposes of reunification with anchor family members already in the U.S.12
    • Priority 1 allows consideration of refugee claims from persons of any nationality, in any location, often with compelling protection needs, for whom resettlement appears to be the appropriate durable solution.  Priority 1 cases are identified and referred to the program by UNHCR, a U.S. Embassy, or a designated NGO.
      • UNHCR, which has the international mandate worldwide to provide protection to refugees, has historically referred the vast majority of cases under this priority.  NGOs providing humanitarian assistance in locations where there are large concentrations of refugees may also undergo training by PRM and DHS/USCIS in order to be eligible to provide Priority 1 referrals.
    • Process for Priority 1 Individual Referral Applications:
      • Priority 1 referrals from UNHCR and NGOs are generally submitted to the appropriate Regional Refugee Coordinator, who forwards them to the appropriate Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) for case processing and scheduling of the DHS/USCIS interview.  State Department Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration’s (PRM) Office of Admissions reviews embassy referrals for completeness and may consult with DHS in considering these referrals.
        • A U.S. ambassador may make a Priority 1 referral for persons still in their country of origin if the ambassador determines that such cases are in need of exceptional treatment and the Departments of State (PRM) and Homeland Security (USCIS) concur.  In some cases, an alternative vehicle, “Significant Public Benefit Parole” (SPBP, a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security) may be a more appropriate option.
    • Priority 2 includes specific groups (within certain nationalities, clans or ethnic groups, sometimes in specified locations) identified by the Department of State  as being in need of resettlement.  Some Priority 2 groups are processed in their country of origin.  The process of identifying the group and its characteristics includes consideration of whether the group is of special humanitarian concern to the U.S. and whether members of the group will likely be able to qualify for admission as refugees under U.S. law.
      • There are two models of Priority 2 access to the program: open access and predefined group access.
        • Under both models, Priority 2 designations are made based on shared characteristics that define the group.  In general, the possession of these characteristics is the reason the group has been persecuted in the past or faces persecution in the future.
        • The open-access model for Priority 2 group referrals allows individuals to seek access to the program on the basis of meeting designated criteria.
          • To establish an open-access Priority 2 group, PRM, in consultation with DHS/USCIS, and (as appropriate) with UNHCR and others, defines the specific criteria for access.  Once the designation is in place, applicants may approach the program at any of the processing locations specified as available for the group to begin the application process.
            • Applicants must demonstrate that they possess the required characteristic(s) to establish eligibility for inclusion.The open-access model  is now in use for Iraqis with links to the United States.
          • The OPE(s) responsible for handling open-access Priority 2 applications, working under the direction of PRM, make a preliminary determination as to whether the applicants qualify for access and should be presented to DHS/USCIS for interview. Applicants who clearly do not meet the access requirements are “screened out” prior to DHS/USCIS interview.
      • In FY 2011, Iraqis inside Iraq and outside Iraq who fall into the Priority 2 group designation,”Iraqis Associated with the United States” can be processed as refugees.
        • The following individuals and their immediate families (spouse and unmarried children under age 21), with verifiable proof of employment, may seek access:
          • 1.         Iraqis who work/worked on a full-time basis as interpreters/translators for the U.S. Government (USG) or Multi-National Forces (MNF-I) in Iraq.
          • 2.         Iraqis who are/were employed by the USG in Iraq.
          • 3.         Iraqis who are/were employees of an organization or entity closely associated with the U.S. mission in Iraq that has received USG funding through an official and documented contract, award, grant or cooperative agreement.
          • 4.         Iraqis who are/were employed in Iraq by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization.
          • 5.         Spouses, sons, daughters, parents and siblings of individuals described in the four categories above, or of an individual eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa as a result of his/her employment by or on behalf of the USG in Iraq, including if the individual is no longer alive, provided that the relationship is verified.
          • 6.         Iraqis who are the spouses, sons, daughters, parents, brothers or sisters of a citizen of the United States, or who are the spouses or unmarried sons or daughters of a Permanent Resident Alien of the United States, as established by their being or becoming beneficiaries of approved family-based I-130 Immigrant Visa Petitions.
  • PRIORITY 3 – FAMILY REUNIFICATION: [this program is not currently available]
    • The Priority 3(P-3) category affords USRAP access to members of designated nationalities who have immediate family members in the United States who initially entered as refugees or were granted asylum.
    • Inclusion on the P-3 list represents a finding by PRM that the nationality is of special humanitarian concern to the United States for the purpose of family-reunification refugee processing.
    • Previously, in order to qualify for access under P-3 procedures, an applicant must have been outside of his or her country of origin, have had an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) filed on his or her behalf by an eligible “anchor” relative in the United States during a period in which the nationality was included on the eligibility list, and have been cleared for onward processing by the DHS/USCIS Refugee Access Verification Unit (RAVU).
      • The following relatives of the U.S.-based anchor have traditionally been eligible for inclusion on the case:  spouses, unmarried children under 21, and/or parents.  Qualifying anchors are persons who were admitted to the United States as refugees or were granted asylum, including persons who are lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens who initially were admitted to the United States as refugees or were granted asylum.
        • In addition, on a case-by-case basis, an individual may be added on to a P-3 case if that individual: 1) lived in the same household as the Qualifying Family Member in the country of nationality or, if stateless, last habitual residence; AND 2) was part of the same economic unit as the Qualifying Family Member in the country of nationality or, if stateless, last habitual residence; AND 3) demonstrates exceptional and compelling humanitarian circumstances that justify inclusion on the Qualifying Family Member’s case. These individuals “are not spouses or children, under INA 207(c)(2)(A)” and thus cannot derive their refugee status from the Primary Applicant.  They must, therefore, independently establish that they qualify as a refugee.
    • In March 2008, PRM suspended P-3 processing and issued a moratorium on P-3 arrivals from certain processing locations due to indications of extremely high rates of fraud obtained through pilot DNA testing.  Further, in October 2008, PRM suspended the acceptance of AORs of all nationalities while PRM and DHS/USCIS examined how additional procedures may be incorporated into P-3 processing on a more regular basis so that the family reunification component of the program can resume, while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the program.
      • In this regard, The State Department is also in the final stages of revising the AOR.  Revisions to the P-3 program and AOR are undergoing final review.  PRM and DHS/USCIS will update the Congress when the revisions are complete, and State Department is prepared to resume P-3 processing.
      • When P-3 processing resumes, Iraqis will be eligible.3


  1. Note: Refugees resettled in the United States may also seek the admission of spouses and unmarried children under 21 still abroad by filing a “Following to Join” petition, which obviates the need for a separate refugee claim adjudication, Report to Congress- Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2011. []
  2. Access to the program under one of the above-listed processing  priorities does not mean an applicant meets the U.S. statutory “refugee” definition or is admissible to the U.S. The determination as to whether an applicant can be admitted as a refugee is made by Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)  in accordance with criteria set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  Applicants who are eligible for access within the established priorities are presented to DHS/USCIS officers for interview.  Although the access categories to the USRAP are referred to as “processing priorities,” it is important to note that assignment to a certain priority does not establish precedence in the order in which cases will be processed.  Once cases are established as eligible for access under one of the three processing priorities, they all undergo the same processing steps. Report to Congress- Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2011. []
  3. Report to Congress- Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2011. []

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  • dear sir / madam I would like to know if my brother in America can write a letter for the USRAP saying he would help me and i can stay with him , and i live in south Africa facing discrimination in school and i have no family with me here , how long will that process take

    Answer shared by hafsa — April 22, 2015 @ 5:01 pm

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  • Dear Sir/Madam,
    I would like to know if I can fill in P-3 when am out of USA to reunifies me with my family in USA and is how I do get the P-3 forms and are the requirements.

    Or its my family which has to apply for P-3 ?

    Answer shared by Henry Nampagi Bakka — January 16, 2015 @ 12:02 am

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