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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who is unable to return to their home country because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Other individuals who are eligible for services on the same basis as refugees include: persons granted asylum; certain Amerasians from Vietnam; Cuban/Haitian entrants; Iraqi and Afghani special immigrants; and victims of human trafficking.

Are refugees and asylees the same?

No. Both refugees and asylees are legally admitted to the U.S. because of the fear of persecution in their home country. The difference is that refugees are given admission before entry in to the U.S., whereas asylees arrive in the U.S. before they claim asylum and are given legal permission to stay.

What’s the difference between legal and undocumented immigrants?

Legal immigrants are foreign-born people legally admitted to the U.S. Undocumented immigrants, also called illegal aliens, are foreign-born people who do not possess a valid visa or other immigration documentation, because they entered the U.S. without inspection, stayed longer than their temporary visa permitted, or otherwise violated the terms under which they were admitted.

What is the Refugee Act of 1980?

The Refugee Act of 1980 created The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program to provide for the effective resettlement of refugees and to assist them to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after arrival in the U.S. Title IV, Chapter 2 of the Immigration and Nationality Act contains the provisions of the Refugee Act.

What is the resettlement process for refugees?

The U.S. government allows a certain number of refugees to come to the U.S. each year.  Individuals granted refugee status overseas by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are brought to the U.S. for resettlement by the U.S. Department of State.  Voluntary agencies (VOLAG's) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)  assist refugees with resettlement and integration into the U.S. Refugees are eligible to receive ORR benefits and services for up to five years beginning the first day they arrive in the U.S.

What is a VOLAG?

Once a refugee is granted permission to come to the U.S. and granted a legal immigration status, voluntary resettlement agencies called "VOLAG's" are contracted for initial resettlement. The VOLAG is responsible for meeting and picking up the refugee at the airport; finding a place to live; and helping with basic necessities and cultural orientation within the first 90 days of the refugee being in the U.S. Click here for a list of the VOLAG's that resettle refugees in Washington State.

How can I access DSHS services if I don’t read, write or speak English?

If you are limited in your ability to read, write, or speak in English, DSHS will provide information about available services to you in your primary language by authorized bilingual workers or by using licensed interpreters and translators. Interpreter services may be conducted in person or over the telephone. Translation of DSHS forms, letters and other printed materials may be given or sent to you.

If you are a current DSHS client, your primary language is the language you have indicated on your application or your eligibility review as the language you wish to communicate in with DSHS.

What do I need to bring with me when I visit my local Community Service Office to determine my eligibility for services?

Anyone can apply to the Department of Social and Health Services. Your eligibility for services will need to be determined before you can receive DSHS services. You can apply on-line through the Washington Connection Portal or through your local DSHS Community Service Office.

When you visit a DSHS Community Service Office, please bring the following documented information to help with your eligibility determination:

  • Your immigration status documentation
  • Proof of Washington residency
  • Information on your income
  • Name of your voluntary resettlement agency (VOLAG)

What is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. It includes the recruitment, transportation, or sales of persons for labor. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines severe forms of trafficking as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking. Traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to compel women, men, and children to engage in commercial sex or forced labor. Many victims trafficked into the U.S. do not speak and understand English and are therefore isolated and unable to communicate with service providers, law enforcement, and others who might be able to help them.

What can I do if I suspect a person is a victim of human trafficking?

If you think you have come in contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. This hotline will help you determine if you have encountered a victim of human trafficking and will identify local resources in your community to help victims.

How do I become a Certified Interpreter or Translator?

You can become a certified translator if you are able to pass the required DSHS written translation examination or pass a DSHS recognized written translation examination offered by another organization. Both examinations are offered by DSHS Language Testing and Certification Program.