Refugee Resettlement during COVID-19 FAQ

A health worker raises the awareness of patients waiting for their appointments outside a primary health care clinic. Photo/IRC

Refugee Resettlement during COVID-19 FAQ

Refugees arriving in the U.S. will receive resettlement services through local Resettlement Agencies (RAs) which are committed to providing the greatest quality of service possible. The impact of COVID-19 on resettlement varies across the U.S. and will change over time depending on local and state requirements. This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page provides information about COVID-19 vaccines and impacts of COVID-19 on refugee resettlement. For a snapshot of key messages and resources provided to refugees at each step of the resettlement process, view this COVID-19 Health Resource Infographic.

This page was last updated June 2021.

Vaccine Messaging FAQs for Cultural Orientation Providers

Cultural Orientation providers may receive questions related to the COVID-19 vaccines during pre-departure Cultural Orientation as refugees prepare for travel, or they may be in response to vaccine-related outreach and support upon arrival. Cultural Orientation providers may feel unsure about how to respond because vaccine messaging goes beyond the normal scope of health-related issues covered in Cultural Orientation. The FAQs below are designed to help Cultural Orientation providers competently respond to common vaccine questions. The list provides helpful responses and additional resources.

Understanding myths, misinformation, disinformation, and hesitancy

It is important to know that refugees and other forcibly displaced people may have lived experience or a family history that includes medical experimentation or unethical medical practice or research. This is also true for many people of color in the United States. In addition, certain actors may spread disinformation (intentionally manufactured incorrect information) to sow discord and distrust in a community or society.

Given this, people may have an understandable suspicion of the vaccines and the motivations behind it. Cultural Orientation providers should approach myths, misinformation, and disinformation compassionately and with the intent to empower people to seek out accurate information from credible sources so they can make the best-informed decision for themselves and their families.

For more general information on resettlement during the COVID-19 pandemic, see Refugee Resettlement during COVID-19 FAQs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The currently approved vaccines were tested on tens of thousands of individuals of different ethnicities, ages, and health conditions and have met the US Food and Drug Administration’s high scientific standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing. As of June 6, over 298 million doses of COVID vaccines have been administered in the United States. The vaccines safety has been and continues to be closely monitored. If you want more information, here are some resources that might be helpful.

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For information on travel to and from the US in the context of COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination and After International Travel websites. This site contains information on travel requirements by country – including requirements and recommendations for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. In addition, the CDC’s COVID-19 in Newly Resettled Refugee Populations website contains guidance for refugees upon arrival in the U.S. – including resources such as a Welcome Booklet for Refugees (available in 19 languages), after travel recommendations, guidance on living in shared housing, and much more.

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  • CDC: General Travel Guidance offers information on travel in the U.S. and internationally, cruise ship travel, recommendations by country, and health notices. Also includes information for travelers who are prohibited from entry into the U.S. The page is translated into Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean by a “Other Languages” dropdown.

Yes, you will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. upon arrival. The COVID-19 vaccines are free for everyone in the U.S. Anyone can be vaccinated regardless of immigration status.

Getting a vaccine is your personal choice. Our role is to ensure that you have the trusted, credible, and scientific sources of information that you need in order to make the best decision for you and your family. The COVID-19 vaccines are strongly encouraged for all who are eligible, including those who have already had COVID-19. It will not only help protect you, but also your family, loved ones, and community from getting the COVID-19 virus, which can be deadly or have long-lasting debilitating effects.

There are lots of different types of coronaviruses and scientists have been studying them for many years. Because of this, scientists already had lots of previous research that they could use to develop the vaccines. In addition, the government funded many companies to work in development and testing at the same time. Also, when a vaccine is normally made, it gets tested first and then large amounts of the vaccine are made. Because of the pandemic and funding from governments, scientists were able to do both at the same time. All of this allowed the development of the vaccines to go faster than usual. It is important to know that not all the vaccines that were made and tested got approved to be used. Only the vaccines that were tested and were shown to be safe were approved. If you want more information on how they made and tested the vaccine, here are some resources that might be helpful.

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  • How COVID Vaccines are Made from the WA State Department of Health in English, and Spanish

The vaccines teach your body to recognize and kill the virus that causes COVID. That is why some people have cold or flu like symptoms for a day or two after getting a vaccine. This is the body working to recognize the virus and activating the body’s immune system to kill it. Once the body learns how to do this it remembers it, so if you get infected with the virus in the future it can quickly fight off and kill it. If you want more information on how vaccines work, here are some resources that might be helpful.

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Though not everyone will experience side effects from the vaccines, some people do have mild side effects for one or two days, including tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, and fever. The side effects mean that the vaccine has activated the immune system. In other words, it means the vaccine is working and teaching your body how to fight COVID-19. Whether or not you experience side effects, the vaccine is working in your body. If you want more information on the side effects, here are some resources that might be helpful.

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The vaccines have been determined to be Halal by many Islamic religious leaders and scholars. The vaccines have received stamps of approval from lots of Muslim religious leaders, scholars, and organizations including the British Islamic Medical Association, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America and the grand mufti or Saudi Arabia. If you want to find out more, here are some resources that might be helpful.

Video Resources

The COVID-19 vaccines will not interact with or alter your DNA. The vaccines have been extensively studied and they found no evidence that it causes any problems with fertility.

There is a lot of information about the COVID-19 vaccines – some of it factual and some of it not true. The most important thing is for you to go to sources that are reliable and that use studied, scientific facts. This will allow you to get all of the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family. Sometimes it is also helpful to talk to someone you trust and whom you know has accurate information – like a doctor, nurse or a community health worker. Many of these professionals have already gotten the vaccine so they can also tell you about their experience. Here are some resources that might be helpful.

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The COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for those who are eligible, including those who have already had COVID-19. Getting the vaccine will not only help protect you, it will help protect your family and loved ones from what can be a deadly or debilitating virus. When enough people get the vaccine, we will be able to see our family and friends again, and the things we do will be more normal.  It is important that everyone make the decision that is best for themselves, their family, and their community after knowing all the facts. Here are some resources that might help you and your family make a decision.

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If you are pregnant, you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. It has been shown that pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy can protect you from severe illness from COVID-19. In addition, if you want to get pregnant in the future, you can also get a COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines do not affect your ability to have children.

If you have questions about getting vaccinated, it may be helpful to discuss with your healthcare provider, however, this is not required for vaccination.


The two dose vaccines and the one dose vaccines are slightly different – but they are all effective and none of the vaccines can give you COVID. The two-dose vaccines use mRNA, which is something that your body uses all the time to create different types of proteins you need to stay healthy. It is important to note that mRNA is not DNA and will not interact with or change your DNA. With the vaccines that use mRNA – like Moderna and Pfizer – they found that people needed two doses to get the maximum protection. A few weeks after the second-dose, when the body has had enough time to build immunity, people who have been vaccinated have a much lower risk of getting COVID-19! There are lots of vaccines that need two doses to be the most effective – like the hepatitis A & B vaccines and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) ones.

The current one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson uses a different type of technology than mRNA. It uses a harmless, weakened virus called an adenovirus to teach the body how to fight off the COVID virus. The adenovirus is NOT the coronavirus so you don’t have to worry about getting infected with COVID! After the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is given, it takes a few weeks for the body to build up immunity.

All the vaccines available are HIGHLY effective in preventing death, hospitalization and serious illness from COVID-19.

With all the currently approved vaccines you are considered fully protected 2 weeks after your final dose. In other words, after the second Moderna and Pfizer shot, or the single shot of Johnson & Johnson. This is because it is takes time for your immune system to learn how to recognize and kill the virus.

It takes a while for your body to build up immunity, so people won’t have the full vaccine protection until two weeks from the final dose. If you are fully vaccinated (2 weeks after your final vaccine dose), then you don’t need to wear a mask in most situations. However, masks are still needed if you are not fully vaccinated. Masks are also still required in some situations, such as while traveling, or if required by your local government or a private business.

On April 21st, the White House released a statement that President Biden will announce a “paid leave tax credit” for small- and medium-sized businesses with less than 500 employees that will provide full pay for any employee who needs to get a COVID-19 vaccine or to recover from after-effects of the vaccine for up to 80 hours (i.e. 10 work days). In addition, the U.S. federal government is strongly encouraging all employers to offer paid leave for employees for COVID vaccine-related absences. We recommend that refugees check with their employer for the current policy on paid leave to get a COVID-19 vaccination as well as paid leave and/or sick policy for recovery from after-effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Communities of color – including refugees, immigrants, and migrants (RIM)– have received smaller shares of COVID vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and deaths. In the last several months, there have been community advocates and leaders who have pushed for vaccines to be more accessible to communities of color including refugees and immigrants. The government, public health agencies, and community organizations are trying to remove barriers to access – such as not being able to take time off of work, not having transportation to vaccine sites, and receiving vaccine information only available in English – so that more RIM communities can get vaccinated. This has led to an increased focus in reaching these communities so that they can equally benefit from the vaccine and keep their family and loved ones safe and healthy.

The most effective way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 is to get an approved vaccine. There has been a lot of scientific study on the vaccine and it has been proven to be safe and effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Vaccines are free for everyone living and working in the United States.  Anyone can be vaccinated regardless of immigration status.

CORE has additional excellent resources on COVID-19 for New Arrivals. A few are highlighted below. You can further explore CORE’s COVID -19 resources.



  • NRC-RIM: The After You’re Vaccinated fact sheet is available in 30 languages. The fact sheet lists activities that are safe after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, recommended precautions, testing guidance, and tips for traveling safely.
  • NRC-RIM and IRC: The After Vaccination video, available in 10 languages, conveys the information provided in the above fact sheet. Audio and visual assets are useful for communities with varying degrees of literacy.


Refugee Resettlement during COVID-19 FAQs

Refugees arriving in the U.S. will receive resettlement services through local Resettlement Agencies (RAs) which are committed to providing the greatest quality of service possible. The impact of COVID-19 on resettlement varies across the U.S. and will change over time depending on local and state requirements. The FAQs below are designed to give Cultural Orientation providers general information about changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • IOM, working with CDC, conducts COVID-19 testing for all refugees within 72 hours prior to their departure. Most refugees will be tested by SARS-CoV-2 Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR). In the rare circumstance that PCR testing is not available in the country of departure, refugees may be tested using rapid antigen kits. All results will be documented on the PDMP and DS medical forms available inside the IOM bag. Refugees who test positive or are close contacts to persons who test positive will wait the CDC-recommended isolation and quarantine periods before travel. Refugees with COVID-19 will wait at least 10 days and refugees who are close contacts will wait at least 14 days.
  • Prior to departure (typically within 24 hours), IOM conducts health checks for all refugees, including checking for COVID-19 symptoms and elevated temperatures prior to transporting refugees to pre-departure transit locations or airports.
  • IOM is also counseling the refugees about appropriate social distancing and providing supplies for recommended hygiene measures (sanitizers, tissues, non-medical masks). In addition, IOM is counseling refugees about COVID-19 symptoms, respiratory and hand hygiene, and distributing a Welcome Booklet, developed by CDC.
  • For refugees with Significant Medical Conditions (SMC), IOM medical staff provide individual counseling and ensure a pre-travel supply of medications for 12 weeks.
  • On the day of departure, IOM staff will facilitate exit airport screening and ensure general observation of the health conditions of departing refugees. Only refugees who are deemed fit to travel during these final checks are allowed to depart on their flight.

  • Refugees arriving to the U.S. are subject to the same entry requirements as any traveler.
  • Refugees arrive at one of the five U.S. ports of entry (Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC). Screening upon arrival depends on the origin of the flight and the traveler.
  • Travelers cleared by CDC are released for onward travel to their final destination. Travelers with concerns following the enhanced screening are referred for additional assessment by staff from the CDC Quarantine Station at the airport.
  • Travelers with possible signs or symptoms of COVID-19 are referred to the local clinical facility that has been pre-designated to receive arriving ill passengers from that airport. Travelers receive medical care as needed. A traveler with possible COVID-19 would remain under local care based on the severity of illness (hospitalized if ill, or discharged to a local, pre-designated facility for those with mild symptoms) until they are fit to travel safely to their final destination.


  • Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is conducted with careful adherence to safety precautions in accordance with all local and state public health guidance. Beginning with the airport reception, resettlement staff bring supplies of masks and gloves for refugees’ use. Transportation from the airport is planned to allow for social distancing through the use of large or additional vehicles. The precise process may vary by location. For example, local RA staff or U.S. ties may provide airport transportation or coordinate a ride-share service.
  • Non-medical masks, sanitizers, and tissues will be provided by IOM at departure and at POE if necessary. Some resettlement offices are providing similar sanitation materials upon arrival if necessary and available.

  • CDC guidelines regarding entering the U.S. after travel abroad apply to all resettling refugees. Resettlement offices are expected to explain that CDC recommends that refugees either receive a post-arrival COVID test 3-5 days after arrival and stay at home for 7 days if the test is negative, or, if not tested, stay at home for 10 days after arrival. Regardless, refugees should continue to monitor their health for 14 days after arrival. During this time, refugees should monitor their health, practice social distancing, and seek healthcare, if needed. The Resettlement offices should share any additional local quarantine requirements.
  • Refugees should receive counseling about the CDC recommendations after international travel
  • As a majority of refugees are resettled near or with family or friends in the U.S. (U.S. ties), the resettlement agencies inform and educate all U.S. ties regarding the stay-at-home recommendations.
  • In some cases, a resettlement agency may arrange for refugees to stay in transitional housing during the stay-at-home period. Transitional housing may include hotels, Airbnb rentals, or other types of temporary accommodations, which take into safety guidelines to minimize risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • During the stay-at home period, refugees can still expect to have sufficient food and groceries (sometimes provided through contactless delivery), regular contact (often by phone) with their local RA, and receive updated guidance specific to COVID-19.

  • To limit the spread of the disease, governments are asking individuals to follow guidance or rules which are put in place for the safety of everyone.
  • In the U.S., all individuals are expected to practice social distancing by maintaining at least six feet of space from others and wearing cloth face coverings in public areas where it may be difficult to maintain social distance.
  • Additional guidance and protocols due to COVID-19 (such as stay-at-home orders, wearing cloth face coverings, accessing community services and healthcare, attending English classes, and using public transportation) will vary by location. The local RA will provide specific information to refugees upon their arrival.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, information may change quickly and individuals are responsible for following appropriate guidance and staying informed about the situation in their communities. Refugees should follow city or state public health guidance, and consult the local RA for information.


  • The vital role of the local RA has not changed due to COVID-19. Local RAs will provide information and connect refugees to other services needed to begin their new lives in the U.S. While non-urgent medical services may be delayed, refugees will have access to health care for urgent medical needs.
  • Due to COVID-19, many physical offices may be temporarily closed and resettlement staff may be working from their homes, providing services remotely (via phone or messaging apps) or modifying in-person contact to ensure social distancing, such as meeting outside refugees’ homes. This will vary based on the location.
  • Refugees are responsible for staying in close communication with their local RA. Interpretation will be provided in accordance with usual program guidelines.
  • The amount of direct assistance provided through the Reception & Placement Program has not changed. As always, refugees may be eligible for other assistance depending upon their eligibility.


  • COVID-19 has not specifically impacted housing to a large degree. In some parts of the U.S., pre-COVID-19 housing shortages that existed may still persist.
  • For all arriving cases, the local RA will counsel refugees to adhere to the stay-at-home recommendations. As previously noted, in some locations this may mean that refugees are placed in transitional housing during the quarantine period. Transitional housing may include hotels, Airbnb rentals, or other types of temporary accommodations, which take into consideration safety guidelines to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • The use of donations for refugees varies by location. In some locations, donations may still be used after proper disinfecting per CDC protocols. At this time, many local RAs are primarily using items donated pre-COVID-19 and are no longer accepting new donations.

  • Facilitating medical handover or immediate medical hospitalization upon arrival may require additional time and coordination at this time. IOM US is aware about these challenges and will be ensuring more time for this coordination of medical arrivals.
  • Receiving medical care in the U.S. varies by location and based on local guidelines. The local RA is an important point of contact for specific questions, including inquiries about existing health conditions, what to do if someone exhibits COVID-19 symptoms, and scheduling of health screenings.
  • Health screenings are still required and taking place. However, the timeline may vary in some locations and occur after the 30-day time period. Obtaining medical care for non-urgent issues will vary by location. For instance, in some locations it may not be possible to schedule in-person medical appointments, but there may be telehealth options available. Urgent medical care is still being addressed and refugees will be able to access prescriptions.
  • Testing for COVID-19 varies by location and may not be widely available. During the stay-at-home period, the local RA will stay in contact with refugees and provide guidance on monitoring for symptoms and any additional steps to take per CDC guidance. Some of the local RAs may also facilitate COVID-19 testing. For example, in one location, the agency partnered with the city department of public health to host a free testing day targeting refugees and immigrants, including providing interpretation.
  • Medicaid coverage has not changed under COVID-19 and reports from local RAs are that COVID-19 tests and, if necessary, treatment are covered.

  • Finding employment remains a critical aspect of the refugee resettlement process and the local RA will connect refugees to employment services, taking into account local restrictions related to COVID-19. Refugees play a central role in finding and keeping a job and should be prepared to actively pursue employment as soon as they arrive in the U.S.
  • The impact on employment as a result of COVID-19 varies by location. For example, in some areas, the types of jobs available have changed. There are additional safety precautions in the work environment and social distancing guidelines in place. Guidance and information may change during the pandemic, so it is important for refugees to remain in contact with their local RA.


  • The impact on school enrollment and attendance as a result of COVID-19 varies by location. For example, in some locations there may be delays in school enrollment, some schools may be closed, and other schools have transitioned to a distance learning model. The local RA will provide refugees with information and guidance about enrollment and attendance of school upon arrival, including remote learning. Guidance and information may change during the pandemic, so it is important for refugees to remain in contact with their local RA.


  • Refugees receive additional information about COVID-19, including prevention, community spread, respecting rules, and adhering to CDC guidance through the local resettlement staff. This information is incorporated as a part of pre-departure Cultural Orientation, provided during IOM counseling sessions, included in the CDC Welcome brochure and again, explained in more detail, upon arrival to the U.S.

Health Resources:

Handwashing Resources:

Hygiene Resources:

  • Enrollment and attendance in English classes varies by location and is based on state or local regulations on stay-at-home orders and business opening guidelines. The local RA will provide refugees with information about access to English classes upon arrival. As appropriate and possible, RAs may provide refugees with additional resources to learn English. Guidance and information may change during the pandemic, so it is important for refugees to remain in contact with their local RA.

  • The amount of direct assistance provided through the Reception & Placement Program has not changed.  As always, refugees may be eligible for other assistance depending upon their eligibility.

  • Consistent with regulations prior to COVID-19, the nature of eligibility rules, types of benefits, and benefit levels vary based on location. COVID-19 may cause delays or changes in processing applications for public assistance; the impact of the changes varies by location. For example, in some instances, social security cards may be delayed depending upon the local Social Security Administration’s office; applications for public assistance may be processed online rather than in-person. The local RA will work with refugees to ensure they are able to access public assistance as appropriate.

  • Prior to COVID-19, access to public transportation varied by location. While this is still the case, in some areas, the level of public transportation may be reduced. Upon arrival, the local RA will provide refugees with information about public transportation in their area. Refugees may still use public transportation; however, use may be limited to essential activities such as grocery shopping and going to work. Social distancing and use of face masks will be required on public transportation

  • The local RA will provide refugees with information related to restrictions and guidelines specific to COVID-19 upon arrival, including information on possible fines and consequences for not adhering to local restrictions. Guidance and information may change during the pandemic, so it is important for refugees to remain in contact with their local RA.

  • COVID-19 has caused changes to daily life in the U.S. and this will influence refugees’ initial resettlement period. Refugees should be informed of the recommendation that they either receive a COVID test 3-5 days after arrival and stay at home for 7 days if the test is negative, or, if not tested, stay at home for 10-days upon arrival. The local RA will assist refugees in staying informed about changes to daily life, for instance, requirements to follow restrictions for large gatherings with family and friends and delays in accessing in-person services.  Public transportation guidance may also vary, including social distancing and wearing face coverings.
  • In spite of changes to daily life in the U.S., local RAs are taking steps to innovate and create a sense of community to assist refugees during their initial resettlement period. These activities vary greatly by location but may include virtual activities, increased use of video communication, attention to building digital literacy skills, and connections with volunteers or other community members through social messaging apps, like WhatsApp.

The CDC has various resources available, all searchable by language, or via the CDC’s Print Resources page. A select list of CDC resources can be found in this bulleted list and are also available by topic for refugees and providers below.

Other Resources