Refugee Health: About Refugee Health and the Program

In collaboration with refugee resettlement agencies, local health departments, and private health care providers, Wisconsin's Refugee Health Program:

  • Assures refugees receive a comprehensive health assessment upon U.S. arrival
  • Coordinates refugee health screening services with federal and state refugee resettlement partners
  • Supplies refugee screening providers with information on specific health concerns of various refugee populations
  • Advocates for culturally competent care and the use of appropriately qualified medical interpreters for quality assurance
  • Coordinates refugee health concerns with other programs within the Division of Public Health

An individual identified as a refugee, asylee, Cuban/Haitian entrant, victim of trafficking, Amerasian, Afghan or Ukrainian humanitarian parolee, or Special Immigrant Visa holder is eligible for refugee health screening.

Silhouette of two hands reaching towards each otherWho are refugees?

A refugee is defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention as "someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion."

What is refugee health?

Refugee health encompasses the unique barriers and solutions to quality care for those displaced from their own country due to persecution as well as the facilitation of screenings required of those resettling in the U.S. Prior to arrival in the United States, refugees are required to complete an overseas panel physician exam. Refugees also complete an initial refugee medical screening shortly after their U.S. arrival, which differs from the exam refugees complete overseas. Upon arrival, refugees must navigate:

  • Refugee medical screening
  • Temporary and long-term establishment of care and health insurance
  • Language and cultural differences
  • Health complications specific to the refugee experience (i.e., trauma, disruption of care, etc.)

Refugee health requires specialized efforts to ensure health equity for resettled refugees in our country. In Wisconsin, this includes advocacy of trauma- and culturally informed care, oral health promotion, and support for victims of human trafficking and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Refugee arrival process

How Does the U.S. Refugee System Work? - A webpage that provides information on the history and statistics of refugee arrivals to the US, the screening and approval process, the agencies and levels of government involved, and other questions about the refugee arrival process

A Refugee's Journey to the United States (Two-Pager) – A PDF by Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families that describes the process refugees go through to reach Wisconsin as well as the history of resettlement in the state

A Refugee's Journey to the United States (Infographic) – An infographic by Wisconsin's Department of Children and Families that briefly outlines the resettlement process of refugees to Wisconsin

U.S. Refugee Admissions Program – A Department of State webpage which includes details on refugee admissions, application and case processing, reception and placement, the Central American Minors (CAM) Program, and the latest Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions

U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program – An Overview - A webpage that provides visuals of the screening, placement, and transit of refugees to the US as well as helpful links to agencies involved

USCIS Information on Refugees - A webpage with information on the refugee process, coming to the U.S., working in the U.S., filing for permanent residency, and traveling abroad

Who are Refugees and How Do They Arrive in the United States? – A Switchboard animated video on the refugee resettlement process designed for onboarding and resettlement staff and accompanied by a toolkit with reflections and resources

Refugee medical screening

Refugee medical screening is a thorough physical exam that includes comprehensive communicable disease screening.

The purpose of a refugee medical screening is:

  • To ensure follow-up of medical issues identified in the refugee's overseas medical screening
  • To identify persons with communicable diseases of potential public health importance
  • To enable successful resettlement by identifying personal health conditions that could adversely affect the refugee's ability to resettle
  • To refer refugees to a primary care provider for ongoing health care

For more comprehensive information please visit our Refugee Medical Screening page.

Refugee health concerns

There are several health concerns, both acute and chronic, that may arise through the refugee experience and which are often seen within resettled refugee populations. These specific areas include but are not limited to:

  • Infectious disease exacerbated by congregate settings
  • Chronic illness not treatable during migration
  • Mental health illness resulting from flight, migration, and/or resettlement
  • Dental and eye care

For targeted medical concerns, see our "For Health Professionals" page. There you can find several resources for trauma-informed mental health care, dental care, and both communicable and non-communicable disease treatment recommendations.

Insurance (RMA/Badgercare)

Refugee Medical Assistance – Office of Refugee Resettlement's (ORR) webpage on Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA), which is available for ORR-eligible populations who can't get Medicaid

Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance – Wisconsin Department of Children and Families' webpage detailing the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) Program and RMA, as well as who can apply and how

Questions about Refugee Health? Contact Us!
Phone: 608-261-6319 ǀ Fax: 608-266-0049

Last Revised: July 20, 2022