New Americans

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who is a refugee?
A refugee is a person who has been persecuted and often victimized in their own country on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, belonging to certain social groups or having a certain political opinion and who has crossed the border to another country.

2. What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?
A refugee flees to a new country because they have nowhere else to go. They are fleeing persecution and fear for their lives. They must prove that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution.

An immigrant is a person who relocates to a new country because they want to and have approval from the new country’s government. They can return to their country of origin without fear.

3. Why is the program called “Lutheran Social Services New Americans?”
The term “new American” emphasizes the integration of refugees into the community, which is the goal of this program. We work to strengthen our communities, connections and relationships, contributing to the capacity of newcomers to thrive and gain a sense of belonging.

4. Do refugees come here for a certain limited period of time?
Refugees are allowed to stay in the United States permanently. They are required to apply for Legal Permanent Resident status (green card) after one year and may apply for citizenship after five years.

5. How many refugees are there in the world?
There are about 12 million refugees in the world today. In recent times, about 45,000 to 50,000 refugees are legally admitted to the United States for resettlement each year; North Dakota receives about 400 of these.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is the only federally-recognized and approved refugee resettlement organization in the state. Lutheran Social Services New Americans resettled about 300 refugees in the Fargo / West Fargo area, 90 in Grand Forks and 20 in Bismarck each year for the past three years. The agency has resettled refugees in North Dakota since 1946 and has resettled approximately 4,000 refugees from 35 countries during the past 14 years.

6. Who brings refugees to the United States?
The refugee resettlement process is a humanitarian program of the federal government. Each October the President of the United States, in consultation with Congress, sets the number of refugees to be admitted here to start a new life. The State Department decides how many refugees will come from specific parts of the world.

7. How do refugees come to North Dakota?
The US State Department determines where refugees will be resettled based on housing availability, job possibilities, family connections, etc. The state refugee coordinator agrees to the number of arrivals each year and must have the capacity to manage the resettlement process. The number is arrived at in consultation with the statewide Refugee Advisory Committee that meets regularly throughout the year.

The Refugee Advisory Committee includes representatives of local organizations such as county social services, adult learning centers, school districts, healthcare providers, public health agencies and city governments. The Committee provides community insight to Lutheran Social Services New Americans on topics such as ensuring the capacity to provide necessary services to refugees, priorities for services and impact of refugee populations on schools, health care system, transportation and employment opportunities.

8. For how long have refugees been coming to North Dakota?
Lutheran Social Services New Americans has been resettling refugees since 1946, when, following World War II, the agency provided resettlement services to refugees from Eastern Europe.

9. How is refugee resettlement funded?
Refugee resettlement is primarily funded by the federal government. Lutheran Social Services of ND receives a certain amount of money per refugee to provide all the necessary services to help them resettle, but that does not cover all the expenses. The agency receives additional financial and volunteer help from Lutheran churches and other faith groups and private donors.

10. What direct payments do refugees receive?
Each refugee receives a one-time federal grant of $925 to pay for their initial housing and other expenses when they arrive. The cash assistance refugees receive is based on the size of the family, age of family members, and is provided for up to eight months. Refugees receive a loan for their travel expenses to the US which they are required to repay within three years of arrival.

11. What is the role of Lutheran Social Services New Americans in the refugee resettlement process?
The agency helps refugees adjust to their new life in the community and gain self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. This includes finding and furnishing an apartment that is ready for their arrival, meeting them at the airport, providing orientation classes on life in the United States, providing cash assistance for up to eight months after arrival, providing case management services to assist with needs that arise, providing employment services, coordinating volunteer services and more.

Lutheran Social Services also coordinates with other agencies that provide additional services, including mandatory English language classes, medical services, food stamps and other services for which refugees are eligible.

Some of the main services provided to refugees by Lutheran Social Services New Americans:

Reception and Placement Services

Pre-arrival: Securing and furnishing apartment; airport welcome.

First 7 days: English testing and mandatory class registration; Social Security card application; referrals to County Services, schools, financial assistance, employment services, health care as needed.

First 30 days: Core services, initial and extended orientation classes

Case Management Services (available for up to 5 years from date of arrival)

Employment Services
First 7 days up to 5 years: Working with local employers, assist refugees in finding employment as soon as possible and helping with employment upgrades.

Financial Assistance
First 8 months: Cash assistance

Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program
Pre-arrival until age 18 or 21: Foster care family licensing, placement, case management, independent living services and ongoing services to adulthood.
Immigration Services provided for a nominal fee
30 days to 5+ years: Affidavit of Relationship and Refugee Interest forms for qualified family members.
1 year: Green Card application.
5+ years: Citizenship services.

12. What assistance do you receive from volunteers in the resettlement process?
Individuals, church and community groups have been very generous in donating their time and talents to help resettle refugees in North Dakota. Last year a total of 113 volunteers donated an amazing 10,500 hours of service to the resettlement effort, including 84 volunteers in Fargo, 15 in Grand Forks and 14 in Bismarck.

The Rotarians of Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead have provided volunteer time, computer donations and Rosetta Stone language software donations to increase the number of English Language Learners (ELL) offerings in the community. Rotary members volunteer as ELL mentors for students and parents of refugee families in the Carl Ben Eielson neighborhood in Fargo.

Global Friends Coalition volunteers in Grand Forks provide English language tutoring in refugees’ homes and also help to acquaint new arrivals with life in the community and the United States.

Volunteers from various Lutheran and other churches in Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck, have organized groups of 4-10 members who regularly visit refugee families in their homes, take them out and about in the community and help ease their transition to life in North Dakota. The parish nurse programs in many Protestant and Catholic congregations provide important health services to refugees. Church volunteers also serve as English tutors, donate household goods and clothing, host events, make quilts and provide transportation.

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Jamestown, regularly supplies beautiful quilts to warm refugee families on cold winter nights. Hope Lutheran Church, Fargo, collects donated furniture for refugee apartments. Olivet Lutheran Church, Fargo, coordinates a garden project with refugees. St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, organizes a Thanksgiving dinner for refugees.

Salem Evangelical Free Church, Bethel Evangelical Free Church and Olivet Lutheran Church, Fargo, participate in Project Boaz – collecting, refurbishing and donating many bicycles to refugees each year.

One volunteer couple in Bismarck held a New Year’s Eve party last year for refugee families that was so successful, they plan to make it an annual event.

Lutheran Social Services New Americans works closely with ethnic community based organizations, reaching out to community leaders identified by each refugee community.

13. Why do refugees come to North Dakota specifically?
Once legally admitted to the United States, refugees have the right to live wherever they want to. Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota has built an infrastructure of services and resettles refugees in Fargo / West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck. However, refugees have the right to refuse our services and settle somewhere else. At the same time, refugees who were resettled in other states have the right to move to North Dakota just as any other legal resident of the US.
Refugees resettle in North Dakota to be near their families and to find jobs, good schools and safe neighborhoods – similar to the reasons that most of us live where we do.

14. What refugee populations are currently being resettled in North Dakota?
Our largest resettlement groups are currently Bhutanese and Iraqis and we also are serving refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, DR Congo and Liberia.

15. Where are refugees being resettled in North Dakota?
Lutheran Social Services is currently authorized by the US State Department to resettle refugees in Fargo/West Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck and has no plans to request authorization to resettle refugees in additional cities. However, refugees have the right to live where they choose and may at some point choose to move away from Fargo, Grand Forks and Bismarck to other cities in North Dakota or anywhere in the USA. Refugees originally resettled in other parts of the country may also move to communities in North Dakota.

Lutheran Social Services New Americans has resettled approximately 4,000 refugees from 35 countries during the past 14 years. Each year for the past three years, Lutheran Social Services has resettled about 300 refugees in the Fargo/West Fargo area, 90 in Grand Forks and 20 in Bismarck.

16. How do refugees support themselves?
Lutheran Social Services New Americans helps refugees find jobs to support themselves because they are eligible for living stipends and resettlement services for only a short time after they arrive. Cash assistance is provided for up to eight months. Employment and case management services are available for up to five years after arrival.

Fortunately, employers recognize the value of employees who are hardworking, motivated, determined and loyal. Employment specialists in our three resettlement communities work with clients to prepare them for the workplace and with the employers to make the employment relationship work for all parties.

Last year 192 newly arrived refugees on our caseload were employed, representing 77% of the employment-eligible adults. Their average starting wage was $8.63 per hour. About 97% of employed new Americans stay at their job for more than three months, a good indication they will keep that job.

The refugees resettled in North Dakota are, on average, able to acquire sufficient English skills and job skills to become economically self-sufficient within 6-18 months after arrival.

Refugees have been helpful to our economy because they have taken jobs in industries such as hospitality and light manufacturing that had employee shortages and required few English or technical skills.

17. Can refugees apply for public assistance?
Refugees are eligible for and subject to the same criteria for public assistance program as are all other legal residents.

18. How do we know that criminals and terrorists are not coming as refugees?
The US Department of Homeland Security conducts several background checks on every refugee prior to their being admitted to the US. FBI and CIA background checks are also conducted. In addition, Security Advisory Opinions (SAO) and CLASS name checks (Consular Lookout and Support System) are conducted by the US embassies. As of February, 2011, the Department of Homeland Security introduced an additional level of screening, the Inter Agency Check (IAC).

19. How much crime is committed by refugees?
North Dakota law enforcement agencies and courts do not track offenses by ethnicity or country of origin.

It can be noted that despite the arrival of refugees to North Dakota since 1946, the state is ranked as having the lowest crime rate in the nation. In addition, research shows that the incarceration rate for native-born men in the US age 18-39 has been five times higher than the rate for all immigrant men, including refugees and immigrants. (American Immigration Law Foundation, Immigration Policy Center, Spring 2007)

20. Do refugees pay taxes?
Refugees pay taxes from the day they arrive here. All federal and state income taxes apply to refugees as well as local and state sales taxes. Once established, new Americans buy houses and pay property taxes as soon as they can. A conservative estimate is that at least 100 new American families in North Dakota own their own homes, representing about $200,000 per year in property tax receipts.

21. Is it true that Lutheran Social Services is building apartments to house refugees in various North Dakota communities?
Lutheran Social Services New Americans refugee resettlement program and Lutheran Social Services Housing are two different programs at Lutheran Social Services of ND.

After a family has been resettled by Lutheran Social Services New Americans to a State Department-approved location (Fargo, Grand Forks or Bismarck), they are free to move to any community they wish in the United States, perhaps to be nearer to relatives or for a change in climate. Each family makes their own decision on where to live in the long term. Once re-settled, refugees are not “moved” by Lutheran Social Services.

At Lutheran Social Services Housing, the goal is to build attractive, quality housing units that are well-managed—ensuring that they are community assets into the future. Lutheran Social Services Housing follows Fair Housing law, which means that every prospective tenant is treated equally – from the first phone call, to the review of the application, to the move-in. These rental units are open to any individual or family who wants to rent housing in a community and who passes the normal screening process that includes criminal and credit background checks, verification of income and references. Some properties are available only to tenants of a certain age, namely senior citizens, which is the only preference in place in any of the Lutheran Social Services Housing projects

Our Impact This Year

  • Volunteers


  • Affordable Housing Residents


  • Languages Interpreted


  • Senior Companionship Hours


© 2016 Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota

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