What are the differences between Immigrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrant Workers in the United States?
Immigrants: The broad designation for people who leave their native countries to live permanently in the U.S. They may have had a choice – immigrating to the U.S. in search of a better life – or they may have been forced to leave their native countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution and violence. Immigrants can be here either legally or illegally. Half the immigrants who reach the U.S. are considered to be illegal immigrants, that is they have come without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa. An illegal immigrant in the U.S. is sometimes referred to as “undocumented.”
Refugees: These are immigrants who have been forced to flee their native countries and cannot return safely. Refugees flee because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Persecution can include violence or even torture. Foreign aggression, internal conflicts, and massive violations of human rights are other reasons people seek refuge in the U.S. Refugee status and its protections must be granted by U.S. officials in another country before the applicant may enter the U.S. Refugees are given permanent residency a year after their arrival and can apply for U.S. citizenship five years later.
Asylum Seekers: An immigrant begins the process of seeking asylum by first citing a credible fear of harm in his or her country of origin, and then making a formal application for the right to remain in the U.S. He or she is considered an asylum seeker until the application has been concluded. This process may take up to two years or more. But having legal status as an asylum seeker gives an immigrant protection until the claim for asylum is granted. If asylum is refused, the asylum seeker becomes an illegal immigrant who may be asked to leave the country and may even be deported. The rights of those who have been granted asylum in the U.S. include the right to apply for a work permit, and after a year to apply for a green card that confers lawful permanent residence.
Migrant Workers: Unlike immigrants, migrant workers generally do not have the intention to remain in the U.S. permanently, though they may stay for several years. They are here to earn money for themselves and to send back to their families in their home countries. Migrant workers are undocumented and without the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Migrant dairy farm workers in Vermont and New Hampshire have been routinely picked up and detained during the years of the Trump administration. They have no legal way to apply for the right to work in the U.S. since dairy work is not seasonal and therefore isn’t covered under existing work visa rules.
What is the USCRI?
United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, Vermont (USCRI): Based in Colchester Vermont, this is one of eight federal field offices that promote refugee and immigrant rights. Its work includes reception and placement, resettlement and case management for housing; and other support services such as employment counseling, English language training, and digital literacy. USCRI also assists New Americans with temporary cash assistance until employment is found, citizenship classes, and health and wellness access.
Where can refugees and asylum seekers find free English language classes?
Central Vermont Adult Basic Education (CVABE) offers free English classes to refugees, prepares them to become U.S. citizens, teaches them how to use computers and the internet, and works with them toward receiving high school diplomas, GEDs, and attending college. There are locations in Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury, Bradford, Randolph, and Morrisville, and the Northeast Kingdom. CVABE’s main office is in Barre: (802) 476-4588.
Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) operates free learning centers, including ESL classes (English as a Second Language) in seven of Vermont’s fourteen counties: Franklin, Grand Isle, Chittenden, Addison, Rutland, and two in Windsor County, in Rutland and Springfield,. To contact VAL call the St. Albans Center in Franklin County at (802) 524-9233.