Check out our frequently asked questions to learn a bit about our office, the services we provide, and the individuals we serve.
Q: Who qualifies as a refugee, and what defines the term ‘refugee?’
A: 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.” In 1980, the US adopted the UN’s definition via the US Refugee Act of 1980, and uses this definition today as the foundation of our domestic refugee resettlement program. It is a common misconception that all refugees are from a particular country, ethnic group, or class background, and the definition outlined above encompasses people from all over the world from all different backgrounds and identities.
Q: How do refugees get jobs if they don’t speak English?
A: Most refugees arrive with the commitment to work hard to provide for themselves and their families, and to give back to the communities that are host to their resettlement. This motivation drives them to either attain English fluency very quickly or to find employment that doesn’t rely on English language skills, or both! Many refugees’ first jobs are those that require little English, like hotel housekeeping or restaurant kitchen work. Because some arrivals come fluent in English while others are pre-literate even in their own language, CWS provides regular ESL classes in attempt to fill these gaps in language proficiency and partners with local ESL programs.
Q: Are refugees documented and able to work legally in the US?
A: YES! Refugees are documented and legally authorized immigrants in the United States. They have extensive paperwork that supports their residency here, including an employment authorization document (EAD), otherwise known as a “work permit.” This document, issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), provides temporary employment authorization to non-citizens in the US. Refugees also enter the work force almost immediately upon arrival. A steady job is crucial to build a life of self-sufficiency in the US, and our office begins to help refugees find employment within a few weeks of their arrival in the Lancaster area.
Q: Where do most refugees come from who are resettled to the Lancaster area?
A: In the spring of 2015 the majority of newly arrived refugees resettled by CWS Lancaster were coming from Somalia and Burma. In contrast, the majority of new arrivals in the spring of 2016 and currently in 2017 arrive from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Q: How many refugees come to CWS Lancaster every year?
A: The CWS Lancaster office resettles about 300 refugees every year. Our office is one of two resettlement agencies in Lancaster City, and we resettle different numbers of refugees annually. Bethany Christian Services contracted through Lutheran Refugee Services is the other local agency that assists with refugee resettlement and provides support services. Local resettlement office arrival numbers are dictated by the number of refugees in total that the US accepts each year (referred to as the refugee ceiling), which is reviewed by the President at the onset of each federal fiscal year. This ceiling number, set in FY2016 to a limit of 85,000 refugees, in turn affects the numbers of resettled folks each local office sees annually. To learn more about comprehensive annual numbers of refugee arrivals to Lancaster and Central PA, visit the the PA refugee resettlement website, or check out the State Department’s Populations, Refugees, and Migration website.
Q: What is the screening process that refugees undergo in order to be deemed safe for resettlement in the United States?
A: The security screenings in place for refugees admitted to the US are deemed as “the most robust of any population processed by USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Program)” says the USCIS. Here is a great infographic from the White House that outlines the basic procedures of security checks for refugees awaiting admission to the US. They also made an awesome video too! For even more extensive and technical details, check out page 4 of this PDF from the Congressional Research Service written in Nov 2015 that outlines the US refugee admissions program. A shorter answer is that refugees undergo a wide variety of extensive biographic and biometric evaluations, and only a very small percent of the applicant pool is accepted into the country for resettlement due to these rigorous screenings. These lengthy screenings often delay resettlement for years, and individuals can be denied entry based upon an immense number of reasons. Among these, for example, are an active tuberculosis diagnosis, or a history of drug or alcohol dependence, or broader terrorism-related inadmissability grounds.
Q: How can I become involved as a volunteer?
A: We’d love to have you on board as a volunteer! You can help new arrivals with transportation to appointments, assist in setting up a new home, or assist in building English skills as a one-on-one English tutor. First, you need to attend a mandatory volunteer orientation training session. More information about that can be found by exploring our ‘Get Involved’ tab. Once you have completed the application and paperwork process and a certified criminal background check you will be partnered with a volunteer task. Thank you for the time and energy that you give!
Q: I’m a refugee, and I have a question about my Green Card, citizenship status, or family reunification possibilities.
A: Please contact our Immigration Legal Team at their office number (717-358-9728) to make an appointment with one of our immigration legal counselors. Further information about our immigration legal services can be found here.
Q: What are the most common languages that refugees speak?
A: Because refugees arrive from all over the world, they represent languages spoken all over the world. Amharic, Arabic, Burmese, Dari, English, Farsi, French, Karen, Kinyarwanda, Kinyumalenge, Kiswahili, Kurdish, Somali, and many more are spoken by newly arrived refugees to the Lancaster area. Many new arrivals speak more than one language and over 20 languages are represented on the CWS Lancaster staff!
Q: Does CWS find places for refugees to live or provide housing for refugees?
A: CWS Lancaster does not house refugees. Our office works closely with local housing resources that are safe, affordable, and along public transit lines that provide leasing options for refugees. These housing options are secured in advance of a refugee’s arrival by our housing specialist, furnished largely with donated furniture and home items and refugees arrive to their new residences directly from the airport with a small sense of home waiting for them. New arrivals sign their own leases and have complete control of their home life from day one in the US.