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Refugee Services Overview

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 to assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest possible time after their arrival in the United States.

While in recent years the number of arrivals has decreased nationwide, the State of Florida’s refugee program is the largest in the nation, receiving more than 5,000 refugees, asylees, and Cuban/Haitian entrants each year.

Refugee Services’ clients all have a legal immigration status. Some are admitted to the United States by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) through its refugee “Reception and Placement” program. DOS contracts with national refugee resettlement agencies to assist resettled refugees during their first three months in the United States. However, only about 8% of Florida’s refugee client population enters the U.S. through the DOS program. A majority of our refugee clients are Cuban entrants who enter the United States through other programs or channels.

Nationalities of Florida’s Resettlement Populations FFY 2020

Cubans account for more than 80% of the arrivals to the state each year. However, the state’s refugee program serves clients from more than 50 countries in 40 or more Florida counties. Arrivals to Florida come from many nations, including Haiti, Venezuela, Ukraine, Iraq, Burma, Egypt, Colombia, Nicaragua, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. Approximately 25% of each year’s arrivals are children under the age of 19 and fewer than 5% are over the age of 55.

Traditionally, the majority of Cubans arriving in Florida reunite with family already here; 80% settle in Miami, which is also home to many Haitian, Venezuelan and Colombian refugees and asylees. The second largest refugee group in Florida is Haitians, who often present for services as asylum applicants or asylees. Jacksonville is a primary resettlement site for refugees that arrive through the DOS resettlement program. As such, Jacksonville receives diverse refugee populations, including Burmese, Bhutanese, Iraqis, Eritreans, and others. Resettlement on Florida’s west coast varies greatly. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties (Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater) receive many Cubans, but also other nationalities, including Burmese and Egyptians. In central Florida, the Orlando area also sees a number of Cuban and Haitian arrivals as well as a smaller 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. The term “immigrant” encompasses a wide range of people who enter the United States through different channels, both regular and irregular, and who have different immigration statuses. Congress determines which groups are eligible for benefits and services provided through the Refugee Services program. All eligible Refugee Services clients have one of the following legal immigration statuses:


The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as:

  • a person who is outside his or her country
  • is unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country, and
  • is 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 who come to the United States through the State Department’s Refugee resettlement program were accorded refugee status by the United Nations in another country after fleeing their country of origin. They are interviewed and approved for resettlement by the U.S. State Department and vetted by the Department of Homeland Security. Less than one percent of the world’s refugees are resettled in the United States.


Persons who arrive to the United States through various channels and who apply from inside the U.S. for protection from persecution in their homeland (asylum). 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 have been granted special immigration status by the U.S. (most often “humanitarian parole”) that makes them eligible for refugee benefits and services.

Foreign Victims of Human Trafficking:

Non U.S. citizens/residents 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

The Director of Refugee Services is based in Tallahassee. Program staff are mostly located in Tallahassee and Miami; Refugee Services Community Liaisons, who are the program’s direct link to community partners and refugees, are located in each DCF Regional Office: Northeast (Jacksonville), Northwest (Tallahassee), Central (Orlando), Suncoast (Tampa), Southeast (West Palm Beach), and Southern (Miami). Community Liaisons facilitate Refugee Task Force meetings in each community with large numbers of refugees. The Task Forces meet bi-monthly and include refugee resettlement agencies, contracted providers, federal, state and local government agencies, refugee-led self-help organizations, and other entities and individuals concerned with refugees. The meetings provide opportunities to coordinate referrals and services, assess emerging needs of refugees, solve problems, and disseminate federal and state policies.

Benefits and Services

Refugee cash and medical assistance benefits are available for a maximum of eight months following arrival to the United States to needy refugees who are not eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Medicaid. This refugee assistance is paid entirely from federal funds through the Department’s existing FLORIDA system within the ACCESS/Economic Self-Sufficiency program structure.

Support services are provided through contracts with nonprofit organizations, local government agencies, and private entities to assist refugees and entrants meet the goal of economic self-sufficiency and successful integration. Services are contracted within the state’s regulations governing the acquisition of services, including competitive bidding requirements. Current services include:

  • Employment Services
    Employment services are provided to assist eligible refugees/entrants in achieving economic self-sufficiency and effective resettlement through gainful employment. Services primarily target refugees in their first two years in the United States, but refugees remain eligible for up to 60 months. 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, and career laddering services for refugees with professional backgrounds.
  • 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.
  • Employability Status Assistance (Legal) Services
    Services include: assistance with obtaining Employment Authorization Documents (EAD), permanent residency applications, and other employment-related immigration status issues.
  • Child Care
    Child Care services are provided to children of eligible refugee/entrants who are enrolled in Refugee Services-funded employment and adult education services. Services are limited to 12 months.
  • Comprehensive Refugee Services (CRS)
    CRS is an integrated service delivery system where a single provider coordinates services in a multi-county area that are essential to refugee/entrant families’ self-sufficiency, effective resettlement, and successful integration into the local community. Services offered may include but are not limited to employment, adult and vocational education, employability status assistance, youth, and child care services. These services are available in Northwest Region, Central Region and SunCoast Region of Florida.
  • Youth Services
    Tutoring, academic enrichment, and orientation services are provided to refugee youth to promote academic success and prevent school dropouts and juvenile delinquency. Services are available in Collier, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, Pasco, Palm Beach, and Pinellas Counties.
  • Eligibility Training
    Refugee Program eligibility training is provided to local contracted service providers to ensure proper determination of program eligibility for all refugee program services based on the most up-to-date federal eligibility requirements.
  • Interpreter Services
    Telephonic interpreter services and vital document translation services are provided to Refugee Services contracted providers, departmental programs, and local Community Based Organizations to increase service access to refugee/entrants and other limited English proficient individuals.
  • Health Screenings
    Services are administered statewide to newly arrived refugees and entrants 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 TB test(s), vaccinations, and vision and hearing screening.
  • Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) Program
    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).

General Information

  • Refugee Services is 100% federally funded.
  • Resettlement of refugees is governed by federal law - Refugee Act of 1980, Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980, Regulated at 45 Code of Federal Regulations Part 400 and 401, 409.953, F.S. Admission to the U.S. of other categories of persons eligible for Refugee Services is also governed by Federal laws and policies.

Eligible Clients

Eligibility for programs of Refugee Services is determined by federal law and includes the following:

  • Refugees are individuals who have been forced to flee their home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Refugees are granted status before they arrive in the United States.
  • Cuban/Haitian Entrants is a term used to describe Cuban and Haitian nationals who enter the United States and are granted a parole upon entry, apply for asylum, or are in removal proceedings.
  • Asylees are persons already in the United States who, due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country, have been granted asylum by asylum officers or immigration judges in the United States.
  • Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrants (SIV) are Iraqi and Afghani nationals who worked with the U.S. military and who were granted special immigrant status.
  • Certified Victims of Human Trafficking (VOT) are individuals from foreign countries who, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, have been forced to perform a commercial sex act, or have been subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Florida's Refugee Arrival Population

Cuba is the country of origin of most refugee clients in Florida; however, Florida's refugees come from over 40 different home countries, including Cuba, Haiti, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Mexico and Chile were the top nationalities of new refugees in the last Federal Fiscal year.

Refugees resettled primarily in Miami-Dade County with significant populations in Hillsborough, Broward, Duval, Palm Beach, Orange, Lee, and Collier Counties.

Florida's Arrival Population over Five Years

The following chart reflects clients entering Florida each federal fiscal year. The Department's website also includes data for the Refugee Services Program on additional clients accessing services tracked by their date of entry into the U.S.

Federal Fiscal Year Cuban/Haitian
Refugees Asylees SIV VOT Afghan Parolees Total
2017 32,661 2,371 415 229 73 0 35,749
2018 6,101 739 1,478 105 33 0 8,456
2019 14,689 878 1,530 51 40 0 17,188
2020 4,662 412 966 49 29 0 6,118
2021 29,023 696 373 85 33 45 30,255


Services to Refugees

Refugee Services currently manages more than a dozen refugee services contracts with state agencies, local governments, and community-based organizations. The Department of Health provides health screenings to ensure newly arrived refugee clients do not have communicable diseases and to identify health issues. AHCA provides payment for Refugee Medical Assistance services in accordance with Medicaid rules, with Federal Funding.

Benefits and services are provided as permitted under CFR 45 Part 400 and 401. Refugee clients who are eligible for TANF and Medicaid may apply for and receive those benefits. Those who are ineligible for those programs may apply for and receive Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) and Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA). In FFY 2021, more than 14,989 clients received RCA, more than 16,301 received RMA and more than 3,720 received TANF. RCA and RMA are limited to eight months of assistance after arrival in the U.S.

In FFY 2021, Refugee Services provided an estimated 38,092 unduplicated clients with services including employment, adult education, Refugee Medical and Cash Assistance and health screening. In FFY 2021, Refugee Services provided 5,783 English language classes to 3,678 clients, 804 vocational training classes to 306 clients and childcare to 149 clients. Refugee Services helped 3,464 refugee clients obtain unsubsidized employment, with 83% retaining jobs for at least 90 days in FFY 2021.