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Refugee Health Program: About Refugee Health and the Program

Alternative Immigration Pathways and Welcome Corps

In the past, refugee resettlement programs have been the only path for immigrants to arrive in Wisconsin. Watch a recording of Savitri Tsering, Wisconsin's Refugee Health Coordinator, present on two new immigration pathways that have welcomed newcomers to Wisconsin since 2021.

Wisconsin’s Refugee Health Program works with refugee resettlement agencies, local health departments, and private health care providers. Together they:

  • Make sure refugees receive a full health exam when they get to the U.S.
  • Coordinate refugee health screenings with federal and state resettlement partners.
  • Help screening providers understand the health needs of refugee populations.
  • Support culturally informed care. Advocate for the use of qualified medical interpreters.
  • Coordinate refugee health concerns with other programs within the Division of Public Health (DPH).

People who can get the health screening include:

  • Refugees.
  • Asylees.
  • Cuban/Haitian entrants.
  • Victims of trafficking.
  • Amerasians.
  • Afghan or Ukrainian humanitarian parolees.
  • Special Immigrant Visa holders.

Who 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."

Silhouette of two hands reaching towards each other

What is refugee health?

Refugee health includes all the unique barriers and solutions to quality care for refugees. It also means making sure those who resettle in the U.S. access recommended medical care.

Before getting to the U.S, refugees must have an overseas panel physician exam. Refugees also have an initial refugee medical screening shortly after getting to the U.S. This is different from the exam that refugees have overseas. Upon arrival, refugees go through the process of:

  • Obtaining refugee medical screening.
  • Finding temporary and long-term care and health insurance.
  • Learning about language and cultural differences.
  • Identifying and treating health complications specific to the refugee experience (e.g., trauma, disruption of care, etc.).

Refugee health care requires specialized efforts. These efforts help to ensure health equity for those who resettle in our country. In Wisconsin, this includes providing:

  • Trauma- and culturally informed care.
  • Oral health promotion.
  • Support for victims of human trafficking and female genital mutilation.

How Does the U.S. Refugee System Work? — Information on the history and statistics of refugee arrivals to the U.S. Also describes the screening and approval process, as well as other questions about the refugee arrival process.

A Refugee’s Journey to the United States (PDF) — A description of the process refugees go through to reach Wisconsin. Also includes the history of resettlement in the state.

A Refugee’s Journey to the United States (PDF) — An infographic that briefly outlines the resettlement process in Wisconsin.

U.S. Refugee Admissions Program—Details on admissions, application and case processing, and reception and placement. Also outlines the Central American Minors Program and the latest Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions.

U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program – An Overview—Visuals of the screening, placement, and transit of refugees to the U.S. There are also helpful links to the agencies involved.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Information on Refugees — Information on the refugee process. This includes 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 video on the refugee resettlement process. This is designed for onboarding and resettlement staff. It also has a toolkit with reflections and resources.

Refugee medical screening is a thorough physical exam. It includes comprehensive screening for diseases that can be spread from person to person.

The screening aims to:

  • Follow-up on any medical issues found in the refugee’s overseas medical screening.
  • Identify diseases that can spread quickly from person to person in close quarters in large groups.
  • Find personal health conditions that could make it difficult for a refugee to resettle.
  • Connect refugees to a primary care provider for ongoing health care.

For more information, please visit our Refugee Health: Medical Screening page.

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

  • Chronic illness not treatable during migration.
  • Infectious disease that is made worse by living in close quarters in large groups.
  • Mental health illness resulting from flight, migration, and/or resettlement.
  • Neglected dental and eye care.

For specific medical concerns, see our Refugee Health: For Health Professionals page. There you can find several resources for:

  • Dental care.
  • Medical screening.
  • Trauma-informed mental health care.

Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance — Details on the Refugee Cash Assistance Program and Refugee Medical Assistance. The page outlines who can apply and how.

Income Maintenance and Tribal Agency Contact Information — Information on how to access Medicaid benefits within Wisconsin.

Who to contact for help


Last revised May 10, 2023