The Refugee Influx - How Many Are Admitted?

admissions refugees persons immigration

The United States has resettled refugees for more than fifty years. Table 4.2 shows the trends in refugee and asylee admissions from 1946 to 2003. The table

Refugee and asylee admissions, fiscal years 1946–2003, and legislation affecting the flow of refugees and asylees, 1949–2003
SOURCE: "Chart C. Refugee and Asylee Admissions: Fiscal Years 1946–2003," and "Table D. Major Legislation and Events Affecting the Flow of Refugees and Asylees," in 2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, September 2004, (accessed March 2, 2005)

Note: In this chart, admissions of asylees means grants of asylum.
1949–53 Displaced Persons Act 1989 Lautenberg Amendment for the Soviet Union, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam
1954–57 Refugee Relief Act 1989 Direct access of Poles and Hungarians to U.S. Refugee Program ended
1956–58 Hungarians paroled 1989–96 Comprehensive Plan of Action-South East Asia
1959 Hungarian adjustments began 1990 Direct access of Czechs to U.S. Refugee Program ended
1959–80 Cubans paroled 1991 Asylum Officer Corps established
1966–80 Refugee conditional entrants 1991–92 Haitian migrants processed at Guantanamo naval base
1967 Cuban adjustments began 1991–95 In-country refugees processed in Haiti
1970–80 Refugee-parolees admitted 1992 Processing of Bosnian refugee applicants began
1975–80 Indochinese refugees paroled 1994 Direct registration for Orderly Departure Program ended
1978–84 Indochinese Refugee Adjustment Act 1994 U.S.-Cuban Migration Agreement (legal immigration expanded)
1979 Orderly Departure Program initiated 1994–96 Cuban/Haitian safehaven at Guantanamo naval base
1980 Refugee-parolee adjustments 1995 U.S.-Cuban Migration Agreement (irregular migrants returned)
1980 Refugee Act (adjustments and admissions began) 1995 Asylum reform initiative implemented to streamline process
1980 Mariel boatlift 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
1984 In-country refugee program opened in Cuba but subsequently suspended 1996 Operation Quick Transit (Iraqi Kurds in Guam)
1984–87 Mariel adjustments 1999 Processing of Kosovar Albanian refugee applicants began
1987 In-country refugee program in Cuba resumed 2001 Processing of Colombian refugee applicants in Ecuador began
1987 In-country refugee interviews in Vietnam began 2001 Enhanced security checks introduced (in wake of September 11, 2001
1989 In-country program in Moscow opened for Soviet Refugee Applicants terrorist attacks)

below the graph lists major legislation and events that affected the flow of refugees and asylees. Early refugees were admitted under existing immigrant programs or via specially targeted legislation. For example, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (PL 80-774) brought 400,000 Eastern Europeans who fled or lost their homes during World War II (2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, September 2004). Between 1953 and 1956 more than 200,000 arrivals came from what were called "Iron Curtain" countries under the Refugee Relief Act. With the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, the attorney general's parole authority was used to admit refugees. The largest group admitted under this parole authority was several hundred thousand Indochinese at the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. The Refugee Act of 1980 coupled with that year's exodus of refugees from the Cuban port of Mariel (known as the Mariel Boatlift) created an unprecedented spike in refugee levels in 1981.

Annual Refugee Admissions Limits

Before the start of a new fiscal year, the president, after consultation with Congress, must set the number of refugee admissions for that fiscal year. In a September 2004 report to the congressional Judiciary Committees ("Proposed Refugee Admissions for FY 2005—Report to Congress,", President George W. Bush proposed that up to 70,000 refugees be admitted during FY 2005 by the following regional allocations:

  • Africa—20,000
  • East Asia—13,000
  • Europe and Central Asia—9,500
  • Latin America and the Caribbean—5,000
  • Near East and South Asia—2,500
  • Unallocated reserve—20,000

The president specified that the allocation for East Asia was to include Amerasian immigrants and their families. He further specified that refugees of the former Soviet Union (part of the Europe and Central Asia allocation) would include nationals of the former Soviet Union as well as persons having no nationality who were habitual residents of the former Soviet Union prior to September 2, 1991.

An additional 10,000 refugee admissions were to be made available for adjustment to permanent resident status of aliens who had been granted asylum under special provisions. The president's report noted that the 10,000-person statutory limitation on the number of asylees who could adjust their status had resulted in a backlog of adjustment-of-status applications some seventeen years long. According to the 2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, nearly 22,500 individuals were granted asylum during FY 2003. It was estimated that these asylees from 2003 would not be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship until at least 2025 if the cap remained at 10,000 adjustments per year.

The 20,000 "unallocated reserve" was to be used, at the discretion of the secretary of state (with notice to the congressional Judiciary Committees), where additional refugee needs arose. The president further authorized persons from the following countries, if otherwise qualified, could be considered refugees for the purpose of admission to the United States: persons in Vietnam; persons in Cuba; persons in the former Soviet Union; and, in exceptional circumstances, persons identified by a U.S. embassy in any location.

Declining Refugee Admissions

In the press release announcing the FY 2005 refugee authorizations (White House, Office of the Press Secretary, "Presidential Determination on FY 2005 Refugee Admissions Numbers,", October 1, 2004), the White House noted that security concerns and immigration policy reviews stemming from the September 2001 terrorist attacks had slowed refugee admissions. Admissions for both FY 2002 and FY 2003 were less than 30,000, while refugee admissions for FY 2004 were anticipated to be slightly more than 50,000. Security was not the only issue affecting the predictability of projected admissions. For example, in Africa, relationship fraud had resulted in the disqualification of many previously approved family reunification cases. In the countries of the former Soviet Union, the number of new religious minority group applicants ("Lautenberg Amendment" refugees) and the percentage of those appearing for interviews continued to decline.

Table 4.3 details refugee admissions for FY 2004 by region and country. With a total refugee ceiling of 70,000 admissions available, 52,868 refugees were actually admitted. More than half of the refugees (29,125) came from the African continent with the largest group from Somalia (13,331).

The February 2005 issue of U.S. Refugee News, a publication of the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, reported that through January 2005 the United States had processed 14,073 admissions for FY 2005. This represented 20% of the 70,000 total admissions authorized for that year. The largest share, 5,655 (40%), came from Africa and 3,919 (27.8%) came from Asia.

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