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ORR Guide to Eligibility, Placement, and Services for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM): Section 1

Eligibility for the URM Program and the Application Process

Published: October 17, 2016

1.1 Eligible Populations

Unaccompanied children and youth in the United States in the following categories are eligible for the URM Program:

Category Acceptable Documentation of Status1
Refugees as outlined at 8 USC 1522(d) in cases where they become unaccompanied while living in the United States because there has been a family breakdown.

I-94 Arrival/departure record
I-571 Refugee Travel Document
I-766 Employment Authorization Document
I-730 Approval Letter

Asylees pursuant to 8 USC 1158.

I-94 Arrival/departure record
I-571 Refugee Travel Document
I-766 Employment Authorization Document
I-730 Approval Letter
Order of an Immigration Judge Granting Asylum
Asylum Grant Letter from a USCIS Asylum Office
Written decision from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)

Cuban and Haitian Entrants in accordance with the requirements in 45 CFR 401.2.

For more information about Cuban/Haitian entrant status and documentation, see the Documentation Requirements for the Refugee Resettlement Program.

I-94 Arrival/departure record
I-766 Employment Authorization Document
A Cuban or Haitian passport showing parole
I-221 Order to Show Cause and Notice of Hearing
I-862 Notice to Appear
I-220A Order of Release on Recognizance
I-122 Notice to Applicant Detained for a Hearing Before an Immigration Judge
I-221S Order to Show Cause, Notice of Hearing and Warrant for Arrest
Copy of I-589 date stamped by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)
USCIS receipt for filing I-589
Copy of I-485 date stamped by EOIR
EOIR-26
Other applications for relief that have been date stamped by EOIR
Other documentation pertaining to an applicant's removal, exclusion or deportation proceedings

Victims of Human Trafficking as defined at 22 USC 7105(b)(1)(C).

Eligibility Letter from ACF Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP)
T Visa
I-797 Notice of Action indicating T status

Special Immigrant Juveniles in accordance with the requirements in 8 USC 1232(d)(4).

I-797 Notice of Action indicating SIJS status, i.e. evidence of approved I-360, or evidence of approved I-360 and approved I-485 or
Visa indicating SIJS status with SL class of admission code or
I-551 indicating SIJS status with SL class of admission code and evidence that at the time a Dependency Order was issued, was either: in the custody of the ORR Unaccompanied Children Program or receiving federal benefits or services as a Cuban/Haitian Entrant

U Status Recipients as authorized by 8 USC 1232(d)(4).

I-797 Notice of Action indicating U status
U Visa
I-94 Arrival/departure record showing admission in U status


1.2 Eligibility Requirements

To enter the URM Program, a minor must be:

  • Eligible for child welfare services in the state of URM placement. In states operating URM Programs, if legal responsibility is not established prior to the minor’s 18th birthday, the minor is not eligible for foster care and subsequent independent living services.
  • Without a close adult relative who is willing and able to care for the child or an adult with a clear and court-verifiable claim to custody.
  • Without parent(s) in the United States, if the minor is a refugee. After reviewing all relevant documentation, the Director of ORR may waive this eligibility requirement in cases of family breakdown if appropriate care for the refugee minor is not available through the local protective system or other resource.

1.3 Application Process

Over time, different application processes were developed for the different eligible populations. In an effort to streamline and simplify the URM application process, ORR has developed a uniform application process for eligible youth in the United States.

1.3.1 Submitting an Application for the URM Program

Caseworkers in the ORR Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program2, attorneys or others, such as, but not limited to, case managers, social workers, or State Refugee Coordinators (SRCs) acting on behalf of a youth must submit a completed URM Program Application.

ORR may request additional information to determine a minor’s eligibility and need for URM Program services and benefits. For youth who are or have been in federal custody through the UC Program, ORR also may gather information from its own records.

Please note that entry into the URM Program is not guaranteed, particularly when a minor is approaching their 18th birthday. 

If the ORR Director approves the application, ORR will send a letter to the SRC and the assister indicating acceptance in to the URM Program, effective on the date of the ORR Director’s letter; after which the youth may enter the URM Program.

If the ORR Director denies the application, the assister will have 30 business days from the date on the notice of the denial to submit a request for reconsideration of the ORR Director’s decision. The request for reconsideration should be sent to: Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), 330 C Street S.W. 4034B, Washington, D.C. 20201, ATTENTION: URM Reconsideration. The ACF Assistant Secretary will send their decision on the reconsideration to the assister and the decision will be considered a final administrative decision.

1.3.2 ORR Considerations

  • A review of the application and the specifics of the case must show that the minor has met the statutory, regulatory and policy requirements. Additionally, the application must have been submitted prior to the minor’s 18th birthday, with sufficient time for a state with an appropriate placement to establish legal responsibility.3 ORR’s placement process will gather information from potential receiving URM providers and states to determine whether legal responsibility can be established in keeping with the SRC’s arrangements for that URM program.
  • In the case of refugee minors who have experienced a family breakdown, ORR may contact the SRC in the minor’s state of residence to gather information on any known plans and options for care of the minor.
  • ORR will decide whether a minor should be accepted in the URM Program based on the minor’s best interests and availability of appropriate placement options. In making this decision, ORR will consider the minor’s readiness for a family or community-based placement and whether the level of care in the URM Program is appropriate given the needs of the minor. ORR will also consider whether the youth has family members in the United States who can provide appropriate care, as well as whether care is available through the local protective system or other resources.4
  • If ORR determines that a minor should be accepted in the URM Program, then ORR will determine the best URM Program for the youth, taking into consideration the information submitted in the application; the available URM Program locations; information from the UC Program, if relevant; the location of relatives with whom the youth has a relationship; and the youth’s ability to access other needed benefits and services in the state or local community.

1.4 URM Program Application

ORR accepts URM Program Applications through a secure database system. To submit a URM Program Application on behalf of a minor, please send your first name, last name, agency name, agency address, and email address to urmprogram@acf.hhs.gov. After your database account is created, you will receive an automated email with instructions.

1.5 Age Determinations

Discrepancies in the age of a youth can occur for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Unavailable documentation;
  • Contradictory or fraudulent identity documentation and/or statements;
  • Physical appearance of the individual;
  • The cultural significance of birthdates;
  • Chaotic circumstances surrounding a birth (e.g., during flight or conflict);
  • Officials inappropriately estimating a birthdate; and
  • Clerical or administrative errors that occur during migration.

1.5.1 Questions about Age during the Application Process

If there are questions about a youth’s age during the application process, ORR should be alerted to the discrepancies by the assister on the URM application. The following should be submitted as evidence when requesting an age determination during the URM application process. Information from each category is not required.

Documentation:

  • Official government-issued documents, including birth certificates. If the youth is not in possession of original documentation, or if the authenticity of the original documentation is in question, government officials of the youth's home country must be consulted in order to verify the validity of the documentation.
  • Other reliable records (e.g., baptismal certificates, school records, medical records) that indicate the youth's date of birth.

Statements by individuals (including the youth) determined to have personal knowledge of the youth's age, and whom ORR concludes can credibly attest to the age of the youth:

  • Statements provided by the applicant regarding their age or birth date. (A youth's uncorroborated declaration regarding age is not used as the sole basis for an age determination.)
  • Statements from the applicant's parent(s) or legal guardian(s), if such persons can be identified and contacted.
  • Statements from other persons.
  • Information from another government agency (federal, state, local or foreign).
  • State or local arrest records.
  • Child welfare agency records.

Medical Assessments:

Medical age assessments include both the use of imaging technology, such as radiography, and physical examinations. Regarding these assessments:

  • A medical professional experienced in age assessment method(s) must perform the examination, taking into account the individual’s ethnic and genetic background.
  • Dental and skeletal (bone) maturity assessments using radiographs may be used to determine age, but only in conjunction with other evidence.
  • As no current medical assessment method can determine an exact age, best practice relies on the estimated probability that an individual is 18 or older. The examining doctor must submit a written report indicating the probability percentage that the individual is a minor or an adult.
  • If an applicant’s estimated probability of being 18 or older is 75 percent or greater according to a medical age assessment, and this evidence has been considered in conjunction with the totality of the evidence, ORR will consider the applicant over the age of 18 for purposes of the URM application process. The 75 percent probability threshold applies to all medical methods and approaches identified by the medical community as appropriate methods for assessing age.

1.5.2 Questions about Age after the Application Process

If there is conflicting evidence regarding the age of a youth enrolled in the URM program, the SRC should present ORR with documentation that the state, county or contracted URM provider has successfully petitioned the appropriate court to change the youth’s age. After reviewing the documentation, ORR will adjust the youth’s age in ORR’s URM database to ensure the availability of funding for a youth determined to be younger than previously documented, or to support termination, as appropriate, for a youth determined to be older than previously documented.


Footnotes

1. For more information about the appropriate documentation for each status, see the Documentation Requirements for the Refugee Resettlement Program.
2. See 6 USC 279 and the ORR website for more information about the UC Program, another ORR program serving special populations of youth.
3. See 45 CFR 400.115. To enter the URM Program, a minor must be eligible for foster care and/or independent living services under state law. In states operating URM Programs, if legal responsibility is not established prior to the minor’s 18th birthday, the minor is not eligible for foster care and subsequent independent living services. Therefore, for a minor to enter the URM Program, the state must establish legal responsibility for the minor before the minor’s 18th birthday. In several states, a minor must arrive in a URM location two to four months before turning 18 in order for legal responsibility to be established in time. When applications are submitted well before a minor turns 18, there is a better chance of a URM placement being identified.
4. Note that even if relatives are available, a decision still could be made to place the youth in the URM Program if those relatives are willing to become licensed foster care families. If a family member is in a jurisdiction where a URM Program operates, and it is determined that a minor may be safely and permanently placed with this family member given additional supports, ORR may recommend that the URM Program facilitate licensing the family member in parity with the state's applicable foster care regulations.