Through its network of caretakers, the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program (URM) helps unaccompanied refugee minors develop appropriate skills to enter adulthood and to achieve social self-sufficiency.
URM was originally developed in the 1980s to address the needs of thousands of children in Southeast Asia without a parent or guardian to care for them. For refugee minors, the State Department identifies children overseas who are eligible for resettlement in the U.S., but do not have a parent or a relative available and committed to providing for their long-term care. Upon arrival in the U.S., these refugee children are placed into the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program and receive refugee foster care services and benefits. ORR also identifies certain minors who may become eligible for the URM program after they arrive in the United States and do not have a parent or a relative available to provide care. The majority of these minors identified by ORR within the U.S., originate as unaccompanied alien children (UACs) and are referred to the URM program once they meet all of the eligibility requirements.
Since 1980, almost 13,000 minors have entered the URM program. At its peak in 1985, ORR provided protection to 3,828 children in care. Now in various states, ORR has about 1,800 children and youth in care. While most children are placed in licensed foster homes, other licensed care settings are utilized according to children’s individual needs, such as therapeutic foster care, group homes, residential treatment centers and independent living programs.
The URM program ensures that eligible unaccompanied minor populations receive the full range of assistance, care and services available to all foster children in the state by establishing a legal authority to act in place of the child’s unavailable parent(s). Our programs encourage reunification of children with their parents or other appropriate adult relatives through family tracing and coordination with local refugee resettlement agencies. However, if reunification is not possible, each program works to design a case specific permanency plan for each minor or youth in care.
Additional services we provide include:
- Indirect financial support for housing, food, clothing, medical care and other necessities
- Intensive case management by social workers
- Independent living skills training
- Educational supports including educational training vouchers (ETVs)
- English language training
- Career/college counseling and training
- Mental health services
- Assistance adjusting immigration status
- Cultural activities
- Recreational opportunities
- Support for social integration
- Cultural and religious preservation
Refugee children, who enter the U.S. with family but experience a family breakdown, may be eligible to participate in the URM program, as well, through an ORR eligibility determination process. ORR’s State Letters on reclassification to URM status provide the standards used to determine if such a child may access the program.
Children eligible for the URM Program are under age 18, are unaccompanied, and are:
- Victims of Trafficking
- Certain minors with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
- U visa holders
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Visit disclaimer page and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) Visit disclaimer page help ORR with the URM Program by coordinating placement with local providers.
Phoenix, AZ; Fullerton, San Jose, and Sacramento, CA; Denver and Colorado Springs, CO; Washington, DC; Miami, FL; Worcester and Waltham, MA; Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Lansing, MI; Jackson, MS; Fargo, ND; Rochester and Syracuse, NY; Jenkintown, PA; Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; Richmond, VA; Tacoma, Seattle, and Spokane, WA.
URM Research Study
In 2021, ACF’s Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) concluded a three-year descriptive study of the URM Program to better understand the range of child welfare services and benefits provided through individual URM programs and the characteristics and experiences of youth served. Highlights include analyses of youth demographics, living arrangements, service receipt, and experiences such as lawful permanent resident status and educational attainment. OPRE produced several publications on the study, including a select findings brief, a final report, and six program provider snapshots. The OPRE-funded study’s special topic reports on education and mental health have broader applicability beyond the URM Program and would be relevant resources to other ORR programs and grantees.
Office of Refugee Resettlement
Administration for Children and Families
Mary E. Switzer Building
330 C Street, SW
Washington DC 20201