Supporting Refugees & Foreign Nationals in the BSA

Author: Phillip M. Zabriskie, BSA International Vice Chair for Supporting World Scouting

The Boy Scouts of America has long-standing policies that welcome refugees and foreign nationals in to the BSA, including the opportunity to transfer past rank requirements. Special exemptions in the BSA’s bylaws also allow for international units to register on US soil, in order to serve all scouting needs and nationalities. Learn more about these policies, and how they can help youth whose scouting activities have been interrupted by national war or family work.

We are reminded by the events in Afghanistan, that Scouting is both vulnerable to the ire of authoritarian regimes, and an enduring movement whose members are prepared to serve in even the darkest of times. The Boy Scouts of America has been instrumental in the establishment and the preservation of Scouting in many war-torn countries. Have no doubt, this important work continues at the international level and with the full resources of WOSM.

However, we ought not forget how much we can do as Scouting leaders at the local level too. Council International Representatives should remain mindful, that foreign Scouts living in the United States are welcomed to participate in, register with, and/or transfer their international rank requirements, to any BSA program. This includes refugees, study abroad students, and families stationed in the United States.  Whatever their situation, foreign Scouts are entitled to have their previous ranks and accomplishments be considered towards credit for BSA ranks. Please share this reminder with your local Advancement Committee, and be a friend and advocate to Scouts who could benefit from this important opportunity. The work of one’s parents or the situation of one’s nation should not derail a young person’s Scouting ambitions! Full details can be found here:


BSA Guide to Advancement (2021), Page 38, Section

Youth From Other Countries Youth from other countries who temporarily reside in the United States, or have moved here, may register in a BSA unit and participate in advancement. If progress from a foreign Scouting association is to be considered and applied to BSA requirements, then the foreign Scout must meet in person (or over electronic media) with members of the council or district advancement committee, along with at least one adult leader or committee member of the receiving unit. Previous advancement work is reviewed to determine the BSA rank—up to, but not including Eagle Scout rank—the youth is qualified to receive. The candidate must present evidence of membership and advancement from the previous association. Once a rank is determined, it is reported through the BSA’s internet portal for reporting advancement or on an advancement report.

However, asking a foreign national to join the Boy Scouts of America is not always the most appropriate option. For this reason, the BSA has created a special exception in its bylaws, which permits foreign Scouts to establish units here in the United States. This policy is particularly relevant if you live near a major embassy, NATO-exchange military base, refugee community, or international school/academy. Cross-registering in this manner permits the foreign unit to utilize Council activities, properties, and training events. Full details can be found here:


BSA’s Rules and Regulations (2020), Page 22, Section X: Special Situations, World Organization of The Scout Movement

Member associations of the World Organization of the Scout Movement may organize, administer, and service units of their association for dependents of their citizens living temporarily in the United States.

Such permission is to be granted upon certification by the National Service Center, under the following conditions:

(a) The approval to establish a unit will be on an annual basis and may be extended upon review of status as reflected in an annual report.

(b) Registration will be restricted to citizens and dependents of member countries. No registration will be accepted or allowed in the unit from citizens of the United States or any third country.

(c) The condition of registration will reflect agreements as to the use of Boy Scouts of America’s intellectual property. In this instance only would there be a requirement for dual registration.

(d) There will normally be no registration fee assessed by the Boy Scouts of America for either a unit or an individual member.

(e) Standards of certification will include membership qualifications, intellectual property, and adherence to the basic policy, program, and methods of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

Let us all be welcoming of those who call our Nation home. And let us support young people, in whom the flame of Scouting burns bright. Be a champion of these policies and help others understand how they can serve the international youth in your council. Our national leadership stands ready to support you.

Also, if you are already engaged with a foreign unit or a refugee community, please let us know, our team would love to hear more. Contact: