Path to Resettlement


Overseas, as large numbers of individuals flee into neighboring countries to escape from war, civil unrest and persecution, a number of international agencies including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other non-governmental aid organizations (NGO) begin to bring relief to those uprooted and dislocated groups.

The US Department of State is the federal agency that determines that a group of dislocated people qualifies for refugee status in the eyes of the US government. At this point, individuals in these camps have to demonstrate that they are members of this population and be interviewed by Homeland Security before receiving approval for travel. These individuals are also given a health screening prior to departure (which may not take place for some time after being approved--sometimes a couple of years or more). Communicable diseases such as TB which are identified during this screening will have to be addressed before the refugee is permitted to travel.

For more information:

Inside the US

The Department of State works through national refugee resettlement agencies (Voluntary Agencies or VOLAGs for short). These include the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and the Ethiopian Community Development Council. Together, these organizations determine where refugees are relocated within the US.

The national organizations work with local affiliates to resettle the refugees in local communities—the local affiliate (like the area Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities or International Institute) tell their national agency whether they will agree to resettle refugees locally. They estimate how many refugees the local area can resettle. The local agencies are called Voluntary Agencies (VOLAG). IF the local affiliate chooses not to resettle refugees, then no refugee will be come to that community.

Resettlement Agency (affiliate) in WI Parent VOLAG (national organization)
International Institute of Wisconsin U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Catholic Charities of Green Bay
Catholic Charities of Milwaukee
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
Pan African Community Association Ethiopian Community Development Council

Once the refugee is permitted to travel (and they must repay the cost of this airfare which is provided as a loan), the local resettlement agency (VOLAG) meets them on arrival and is responsible for helping them get established. The VOLAG receives special funding from the federal government to support the first 90 days of settlement activity--finding adequate housing, getting basic food, clothing and supplies, assessing employability, and starting the process of securing employment and registering for any public benefits for which they may be eligible.

The US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement is responsible for funding on-going services to support refugees after this 90 day period.

As a general rule, each state is funded to operate the office of the state refugee coordinator which is the single point of contact for all refugee services within that state and is responsible for overseeing and developing all possible programs and services for refugees so as to enable refugees to achieve economic and personal self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.

Typically, state receive an annual allocation based on the refugee population in the state and can also compete for additional program funding (varying according to the funding available from the federal government for refugees).

Usually this state office sub-awards funding to local resettlement agencies for the ongoing support for refugees in each community: mutual assistance associations (MAA), ethnic community based organizations, non-profit social service organizations and so on. In Wisconsin, Catholic Charities of Green Bay and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Lutheran Social Services Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and International Institute of Wisconsin are the active VOLAGs.

A refugee must complete one year of residency before being permitted to adjust status to become a permanent resident alien. A refugee must wait five years before being permitted to naturalize.

Once a refugee does become a citizen, the refugee is no longer eligible for refugee programs funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. A refugee senior must naturalize within nine years of arrival or lose eligibility for SSI.

See Program page for more detail about current refugee programs.

Wisconsin’s Refugee Population

  • Over 70,000 refugees and former refugees live in Wisconsin. Of this number, the great majority (about 55,000) are Hmong from Laos in Southeast Asia, but refugees have come to Wisconsin from all over the world. Other smaller populations include refugees from Vietnam,, Cambodia, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. The newest come from Somalia, former Burma (Karen and Chin) and Bhutan (next to Nepal, China and India).
  • Today, 95% (66,500) of refugees in Wisconsin have achieved economic self-sufficiency—working and contributing to our communities! Almost all are now citizens.
  • The Refugee Assistance Services Program Section, on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, manages and monitors contracts for programs that are designed to assist refugees achieve economic self-sufficiency and social self-reliance. Direct services are provided by partner agencies and include employment and supportive services (such as health screenings, English as a Second Language instruction, family-focused case management). In CY 2009, BMRLS will award over $3 million in federal funding to local refugee agencies to enable refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and become integrated into their communities.
  • There are a number of such partner agencies in Wisconsin. Many of these agencies belong to one of seven “consortia” in Wisconsin located in: the La Crosse area, the Eau Claire & Barron County area, Green Bay and Fond du Lac area, the Sheboygan and Manitowoc area, the Wausau area, Dane County and the Milwaukee area. Examples are: the Pan-African Community Association of Milwaukee and United Asian Services of Dane County.
  • Among these agencies are those qualified as voluntary resettlement agencies that perform case management services for refugees once they arrive. There are five resettlement agencies now operating in Wisconsin and each are an affiliate of a larger, national non-profit parent organization called a voluntary agency (VOLAG). Case managers at these affiliates assist refugees with apartment set-up, coordination of health services, English language education, school enrollment, finding and retaining employment and much more.
  • From the 1980s through the early 2000, the Hmong refugees spread throughout the major urban areas in Wisconsin, but today, most new refugees are building new lives in the greater Milwaukee metropolitan region though Madison expects to see over 100 Bhutanese refugees starting in 2009.
  • Wisconsin resettlement agencies anticipate about 500 new refugees will arrive in 2008; most will be from South East Asia (Burma), Africa (Burundi, Somalia) and the Middle East (Iraq). Since January of 2008 year, 110 refugees have come to Wisconsin.

See partner agencies page for more detail about current partner agencies in Wisconsin.

The Department of Children and Families, protecting children, strengthening families, building communities.