Refugee Services Program

General Information

Refugee Services

The Department of Children and Families Refugee Services Program is federally funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The purpose of the program is to assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest possible time after their arrival in the United States.

The State of Florida’s refugee program is the largest in the nation, resettling more than 25,000 refugees and Cuban/Haitian entrants each year. Florida also becomes home to more than 2,000 asylees eligible for services each year.

There is every reason to believe that Florida’s resettlement program will continue at this level. Since 1995, the U.S. and Cuba have had a migration accord that provides for 20,000 Cubans each year to migrate to the United States. Traditionally, the majority of Cubans arriving in the U.S. come to Florida to reunify with family already here.

The majority of Florida’s refugee program participants are Cuban or Haitian entrants who do not have access to the standard resettlement assistance that is available to newly arrived refugees. Refugees receiving “Reception and Placement” assistance through Voluntary Agencies under contract to the U.S. Department of State represent less than 25% of Florida’s refugee client population.

Nationalities of Florida’s Resettlement Populations

Cubans coming to Miami are the largest group of Refugee Services clients in Florida. However, it is important to note that the state’s program serves clients from more than 60 countries in 40 or more Florida counties. Arrivals to Florida come from many nations, including Russia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Ukraine, Iraq, and Eritrea. Approximately 25% of each year’s arrivals are children under the age of 19 and fewer than 5% are over the age of 55.

The diversity of Florida’s population is often overlooked because of the number of arrivals from Cuba, who account for more than 80% of the arrivals to the state each year. A second significant ethnic group in Florida’s resettlement program comprises newly arrived Haitians. Haitians are often not counted in arrival numbers as many do not arrive through the same processes as refugees and Cuban entrants. Haitians often appear for services as asylum applicants or asylees. Cuban and Haitian arrivals are the majority of arrivals in Southeast Florida; however, the situation is different in other parts of the state. Northeast Florida (Jacksonville) is a primary resettlement site for refugees that arrive through the conventional Department of State system. As such, Jacksonville receives diverse refugees needing placement, most recently Burmese, Bhutanese, Afghans, and Iraqis. Resettlement on Florida’s west coast varies greatly. Hillsborough County (Tampa) receives many Cuban arrivals, but also of other nationalities, including Bhutanese, Burmese, and Iraqis. Pinellas County (St. Petersburg), which has long been a home to a large Vietnamese population, is now primarily resettling family reunification cases. In central Florida, Orange County (Orlando) has seen growth in the number of Cuban and Haitian arrivals as well as a small numbers of refugees of other nationalities.

Populations Eligible for Services

Many people are not familiar with the different immigration classifications for individuals entering this country. For Refugee Services, these distinctions are critical because benefits are linked to immigration status. The term “immigrant” has very broad meaning, and is generally associated with non U.S. citizens. Relatively few immigrants in the United States are entitled to refugee program services. Though individuals entitled to refugee services are considered immigrants, they are classified under one of the follow federal classifications.

Refugees: Persons applying from outside the U.S. for protection from persecution in their homeland. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as:

  • a person who is outside his or her country
  • Unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country
  • Able to demonstrate persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution, based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

Refugees apply for and receive refugee status before entering the U.S. Requests for refugee status are usually processed in a third country where they have claimed temporary asylum after fleeing their country of origin. Refugees are admitted under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.

Asylees: Persons applying from inside the U.S. for protection from persecution in their homeland. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 defines an asylee as a person who is:

  • Physically present in the U.S. or a port of entry
  • Able to meet the definition of refugee (see above)

Cuban/Haitian Entrants:

Persons from Cuba or Haiti who are neither refugees nor asylees but who have been granted special immigration status by the U.S. and may be eligible for refugee benefits, including individuals who are paroled or allowed temporary entrance to the U.S. and asylum applicants.

Victims of Human Trafficking: Persons who, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, have performed a commercial sex act, or have been recruited, harbored, transported, provided or obtained for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery. To be eligible for services, an individual 18 years of age or older must be “certified” by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or a T-visa holder. Child victims of human trafficking do NOT need to be “certified” or be a T-visa holder but require a letter of eligibility from ORR.

Coordination of Services

To promote communication and the coordination of services, Refugee Services’ Headquarters Office is located in Miami, with Regional Offices located in Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Community Liaisons, located in the various Regions, act as the “eyes and ears” of the program, interacting with the local refugee population and service providers. They also facilitate Refugee Task Force meetings in each community with large numbers of clients. The Task Forces include Voluntary Agencies, ethnic organizations, contracted providers, federal, state and local government agencies and other entities and individuals concerned with refugees and meet monthly or bi-monthly. The meetings provide opportunities to coordinate referrals and service providers, assess emerging needs of refugees, solve problems, and disseminate federal and state policies.

Service Delivery

Refugee cash and medical assistance benefits are available to needy refugees who are not eligible for other cash or medical assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Medicaid, and who arrive in the U.S. with no financial resources. This refugee assistance is paid entirely from federal funds through the Department’s existing FLORIDA system within the ACCESS/Economic Self-Sufficiency program structure. Refugee cash and medical assistance are available for a maximum of eight months following arrival to the U.S. Other support services are provided through nonprofit organizations, government entities and private entities to assist refugees and entrants meet the goal of economic self-sufficiency. In general, services to refugees are delivered under contract through community-based providers. Services are contracted within the state’s regulations governing the acquisition of services, including competitive bidding requirements. Most services are provided by voluntary agencies and local governments and are often staffed by former refugees. Current services include:

  • Adult and Vocational Education
    Adult education services include English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), Vocational Training, Vocational English for Speakers of Other Languages (VESOL), Adult Basic Education (ABE), and General Education Diploma (GED) preparation classes.
  • Child Care
    Child Care services are provided to children of eligible refugee/entrants whose parents are enrolled in Refugee Services-funded employment and adult education services, and Refugee Resettlement-funded match grant programs. Services are available on a part-time and full-time basis depending on the phase of employment program participation. Services are limited to 24 months.
  • Youth Crime Prevention
    Local law enforcement in Hillsborough County provide outreach, community education, crime prevention services with staff acting as liaisons between local law enforcement and the Cuban/Haitian communities.
  • Eligibility Training
    Refugee Program eligibility training is provided to local contract providers to ensure proper determination of program eligibility for all refugee program services is based on the most up-to-date federal eligibility requirements.
  • Employability Status Assistance (Legal) Services
    Immigration and employment-related legal assistance is provided to eligible refugees/entrants. Services include: assistance with Employment Authorization Documents (EAD), permanent residency applications, asylum applications, court representation and other immigration status issues. Legal services are currently available to refugees and entrants in Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Desoto, Duval, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota Counties and surrounding areas.
  • Employment Services
    Employment and career-laddering services are provided to assist eligible refugees/entrants in achieving economic self-sufficiency and effective resettlement through gainful employment. Services are generally limited to refugees/entrants who have been in U.S. for not more than 60 months, depending on the funding source. Employment services include pre-employment counseling and orientation, direct job preparation and placement, 90 and 180 day follow-up, On-the-Job Training (OJT), re-credentialing/recertification, career laddering trainings and placements.
  • Epilepsy Case Management
    Case Management services are provided to refugees and entrants with a diagnosis of epilepsy or undergoing a diagnosis of a seizure disorder. Case management activities include blood work, clinic visits, referrals for EEG and EEG interpretations. These services are only available in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.
  • Haitian Family Services
    Educational services are provided to newly arrived Haitian refugees/entrants to increase their understanding of U.S. laws related to domestic violence, and child abuse while providing training in parenting, conflict resolution, interpersonal relationships, and anger management.
  • Health Screenings
    Services are administered by the Department of Health, Refugee Health Services Office. Federally approved protocol for completing health screenings of refugees are followed and provided within 90 days of arriving to Florida. Health screenings include Cuban TB test(s), vaccinations, and vision and hearing screening.
  • Integration Assistance
    The primary purpose of integration assistance is to identify risk factors causing vulnerability that prevent effective resettlement, provide integration training and make appropriate referrals to community resources, track client progress through the integration process and assist clients with addressing issues related to vulnerabilities.
  • Interpreter Services
    Interpreter training, telephonic interpreter services and vital document translation services are provided to Refugee Services contract providers, departmental programs, and local Community Based Organizations to increase service access to refugee/entrants and other limited English proficient individuals.
  • Medical Services
    Medical services are provided to Cuban and Haitian refugees/entrants primarily those who have been in the United States for less than 60 months. These services can be inpatient or outpatient care to indigent individuals who meet federal income standard requirements of 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. These consumers are not Medicaid eligible. Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County is the only hospital we fund to provide these services.
  • Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM)
    Unaccompanied refugee minors are provided services equivalent to youth in foster care and services oriented toward the special needs of refugee youth (i.e. ESOL, cultural identity and adjustment, family tracing and trauma treatment services).
  • Victims of Human Trafficking
    The Victim of Human Trafficking project is designed to promote awareness of human trafficking of children in Florida, educate professionals who may come into contact with child victims of trafficking, and to build a comprehensive system or network of services to respond to the needs of child victims of human trafficking at local and state levels.
  • Youth and Family Services
    Services are provided to refugee youth to prevent juvenile delinquency and school dropouts, and to preserve the refugee family. Services are available in Collier, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, and Pasco, Palm Beach, Pinellas Counties to eligible refugees/entrants who have been in the U.S. for less than 60 months.