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Refugee Services in Iowa

Each year, the state of Iowa accepts several hundred refugees from countries around the world.

 A refugee is a person who has beeinterviewed by the Department of Homeland Security and has been authorized to come to the United States permanently. They are unable to seek the protection of their country of nationality because of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Refugees have a vast array of skills, education and experience. Some refugees have college degrees or years of professional experience in their home country, but had to leave their country due to circumstances out of their control. As an admissions professional, you may encounter refugee students at your institutions who are wanting to improve their language proficiency, or complete their degree so they can work in their chosen profession here in the United States. Refugee students have very different experiences and needs than other domestic or international students, and it can be confusing to both the counselor and the student to figure out the student’s needs.

When working with refugee students, always be cognizant of their residency status. Many refugees are permanent residents of the U.S., which means that they have a green card and a social security number. However, some refugees are still waiting on these documents and do not yet have permanent residency status. A student’s residency status is critical in determining if they’re eligible for financial aid. If a refugee student is a permanent resident, they can apply for federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and student loans. At many institutions, permanent residents can also qualify for need-based institutional aid.

The admissions process can also vary greatly depending on the circumstances of the individual student. Be careful and attentive to detail when assisting refugee students through the admissions process. Use your resources in both international and domestic admissions, as well as the registrar’s office, to determine which type of application the student should fill out, what admission requirements they need to meet, and whether they qualify for in-state or out-of-state tuition.

Additionally, many refugee students will begin at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution. Many of these students have previous college coursework and professional experience in their home countries. If possible, try to review all college-level transcripts to help the student maximize their transfer credit.

 As with all international students, English proficiency level varies among refugees. Some may feel very comfortable with the language, but others may struggle or have a more limited vocabulary. In the state of Iowa, some of the most common languages spoken by refugees are Arabic, French, and Burmese. If you find that you’re really struggling to communicate in a face-to-face conversation, try using Google Translate. You can type in the information you need to share, and the student can read it in their own language.

As an admission professional, it may seem overwhelming or confusing to find the right answers for a refugee student inquiring about admission or financial aid. Be creative, be patient, and don’t get frustrated. While the situation may be overwhelming to you, just think of how it must feel to the student. Some refugees have overcome immense obstacles in their home countries, and have undergone extreme changes as they transition to life in Iowa. As counselors, we can help the state of Iowa be welcoming and supportive to these students.

Resources for refugee families in Iowa

○     Interpretation
○     Case Management
○     Employment Services and Training
○     Transportation
○     Welcome services
○     Resettlement
○     Job placement
○     Iowa Refugee Summit
○     Transportation
○     ESL classes


*Thank you to Lupe Hernandez, Student Success Advisor with the Iowa College Access Network, and Adam Parker, Assistant Director for International Recruitment and Outreach with the University of Iowa, for their assistance with this article.

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