What exactly does it mean for someone to have immigrated to the United States with refugee status?

I've had friends whose families sponsored Kurdish refugees as part of a church program to help them immigrate (that was like 15 years ago) and I've even dated a girl who was a Polish refugee.

I always just assumed it meant their political preferences were opposite that of the group in power, they were being oppressed, and since their views more closely aligned with the politics of the United States, they wanted to move here and the US agreed to let them. I'm not sure how accurate that is.

There's an Internet celebrity I like, the "Crazy Russian Hacker" who does life hacks on YouTube. This guy mentioned that he is a refugee from Ukraine and moved here in 2013, which (I know from first hand experience) is when Russia was invading Eastern Ukraine. He clearly loves Russia though, especially the Russian military. So, what does it mean that he's a refugee?

  • His mother is Russian, his father is Ukrainian. He's, what Facebook calls, "complicated"
    – user4012
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 7:09

1 Answer 1


According to the United States State Department, a refugee is defined as:

  • someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group

  • first step for most refugees is to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which s/he has fled

  • UNHCR has the mandate to provide international protection to refugees. UNHCR determines if an individual qualifies as a refugee and, if so, works toward the best possible durable solution for each refugee: safe return to the home country, local integration, or third-country resettlement

(emphasise mine)

  • Thank you, this is very helpful. +1 . So can you please help me relate the official definition to some of these specific cases? I mean, I know that my ex-girlfriend got permission from her country to immigrate to the US. So that mean that she "fled"? I know in her case she also still visited Poland every few years, so does that not contradict this definition? What about the Crazy Russian Hacker? Thanks
    – Hack-R
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 22:23

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