Under what circumstances are family members allowed to join a refugee in the United States?

A corrupt government made Esayas Tesfaye Mesfin flee his home in Ethiopia, forcing the 16-year-old to leave his family behind.  After spending seven years in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Mesfin resettled in Chicago where he hopes to one day reunite with his family.

United States law allows a refugee to bring his spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 with him into the country, but Mesfin’s sister and five brothers do not meet any of these qualifications.  Even his parents are not granted access under the rules.  If they choose to join Mesfin in Chicago, they will have to undergo the entire refugee process, without any short cuts.

About 7 percent of the 11 million refugees in the world reside in the Americas, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.  Competition for entry to the United States is tough, but Dale Buscher, the Director for Protection for the Women’s Refugee Commission, said it is far easier for refugees to gain entry if they have family already resettled in the country, but only if those family members meet the criteria listed above.

If the family of a refugee does not enter the country with him, he can petition for their entry at a later time.  The Form I-730 is a 4-page refugee/asylee relative petition which requests demographic information such as the age and address of both the refugee and the relative.  The form also asks for verification of the relationship between the two.

However, this would not be an option for Mesfin even if his siblings and parents were qualifying family members.  He has lived in the United States for five years, and the form must be filed within two years of the refugee’s arrival.

Mesfin still hopes that his family will be able to join him in Chicago one day. Though he says his parents are content to remain in Ethiopia, one of his brothers has already filed for entry to the United States.  He was granted an interview one year ago and is now awaiting a response from the refugee agency.  In the meantime, Mesfin continues to visit his siblings in countries including Kenya, Sudan, and Italy.  As a U.S. citizen, he can travel to his siblings until the day that they can permanently join him in Chicago.

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