Cultural Orientation for refugees is a process that begins overseas and continues in the U.S. communities where refugees are resettled. Elsewhere we discuss CO overseas. Here we answer some basic questions about CO in the United States.
Refugees arrive in the United States with many questions: Where am I going to live? How am I going to pay for my apartment? How soon can I get a job? How can the rest of my family resettle here? By providing answers to these questions, orientation fosters the smooth adaptation of refugees to their new communities.
Orientation is part of a package of mandatory core resettlement services, called Reception and Placement, or R&P, that newly arrived refugees receive. Other R&P services include sponsorship and pre-arrival planning; support for basic needs (housing, furniture, food, and clothing) for at least 30 days after arrival; referral to social service providers, including health care, ESL, and employment; and case management for 90 days.
In addition to these initial core services, most communities have other services that refugees can receive. These include job placement assistance, ESL classes, and mental health services. Many of these social services for refugees also have orientation components.
CO, as part of the initial package of resettlement services, is funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Additional orientation is funded through refugee social services by the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or through other sources. Still other orientation is donated free, through time given by volunteers who often provide orientation that paid staff cannot.
Different organizations provide orientation to refugees at different times in the resettlement process. All refugees arriving in the United States are sponsored by a resettlement agency in their new communities. These agencies ensure that refugees receive what is called community orientation during their first 30 days in their new communities. Resettlement agencies, as well as community-based organizations, also offer ongoing orientation as part of other services they provide, such as job counseling and ESL training. During job counseling, for example, refugees learn how to describe their work skills and interview for a job. In their ESL classes, refugees learn the language they need to function in their new communities—to report an emergency, to fill out a job application form, and to read road signs.
CO is provided to refugees in the communities where they have been resettled. CO takes place at resettlement agency offices, in refugees' homes, and at different locations throughout the community. Unlike overseas CO, which generally takes place in classrooms, CO in the United States often occurs where and when the information is needed. For example, refugees learn about local transportation while riding a bus and about savings accounts while visiting a bank.
Orientation focuses on those refugees who are most likely to be working—those between the ages of 18 and 65. However, refugees under 18 or over 65 often receive CO as well.
Resettlement agencies are required to provide orientation on housing and personal safety within 5 working days after the refugees arrive in their new communities. Orientation on other topics is provided within 30 days after arrival. Most agencies continue to provide orientation throughout the first 90 days. Many provide it up to 1 year. Others in the community may provide extended CO.
U.S. resettlement staff address the same set of basic CO topics that are addressed in overseas programs. With overseas CO, attention to a particular topic depends on the needs of the group being trained. In the United States, the individual refugee's needs and characteristics shape CO.