5 Facts About the U.S. Refugee Program
Armed conflicts, strife, and persecution force people and families to flee their homes as they seek safety. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), every day roughly 44,400 people must leave their homes due to external forces. Some people meet certain standards agreed-upon by the international community. When this happens, they are referred to as refugees, and often settle into camps as global agencies work tirelessly to place them into safer countries and homes around the world.
In the United States (U.S.), a very thorough application and screening process ensures that only candidates meeting stringent requirements are accepted. After acceptance, the U.S. resettles refugees across the country. U.S. acceptance of refugees is often a controversial political topic despite the arduous and thorough vetting process. Currently, the Trump administration has severely limited the amount of refugees that the U.S. will accept in fiscal year (FY) 2019. This is concerning and detrimental to the world’s population of refugees, who rely on countries like the U.S. to offer safe harbor.
This article includes some interesting and/or highly relevant facts about the U.S. refugee program, sometimes also referred to as the refugee resettlement program. If you have any questions about the refugee consideration and application process, contact an expert immigration lawyer at Davis & Associates.
First and foremost, it’s important to officially define who the international community considers to be “refugees.” According to the UNHCR, a refugee is a “person forced to flee their home country to escape persecution, war, or violence.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also stipulates that to be considered for the U.S. refugee program, applicants must be outside of U.S. territory and admissible to the U.S. You can read more information about the specific requirements of U.S. resettlement on the USCIS’s website.
1. In 2017, the U.S. Accepted 64,000 Less Refugees Than in 2016
In line with the Trump administration’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, the U.S. only accepted 33,000 refugees in 2017. According to the Pew Research Center, this amount was a “steep drop” from 2016, when 97,000 people received reprieve and resettlement. Additionally, even though other countries also saw declines in refugee acceptance, they consistently resettled roughly double the amount of people than the U.S. This marks the first time that the U.S. resettles less refugees than other countries across the globe.
Yet, the overall decline in worldwide refugee resettlement could indicate a troubling trend. This is because while refugee acceptance dropped in 2017, dropping in total numbers by “tens of thousands,” the worldwide total population of refugees rose by millions.
In fiscal year 2018, the Trump administration continued its limited accepted of refugees, lowering the annual cap to 45,000 people. This was the lowest that the cap has fallen since Congress’s passing of the Refugee Act. Unfortunately, in fall 2018 the administration yet again lowered the cap, this time to a record-low of 30,000. Further, a cap marks the absolute most a country will accept, in terms of refugees, so the actual number of accepted refugees in 2019 will likely be much lower. For example, while the 2018 cap was 45,000, The Washington Post reports only about 22,500 refugees were actually accepted and resettled.
2. California Received the Most Refugees in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017
According to the UNHCR, the state with the highest amount of accepted refugees was California. Following after in refugee acceptance were: Texas, New York, Washington, Ohio, and Michigan (respectively). This is perhaps not surprising, considering the high populations of California, Texas, and New York.
3. Eight U.S. Government Agencies Investigate Refugee Applicants
The U.S. refugee application and vetting process is famously stringent. During the application process, a total of eight government agencies are directly involved in the review process. Further, candidates undergo five background checks that utilize a total of six different security databases. Finally, applicants must participate in three interviews and a medical screening.
4. A Total of 3 Million Refugees Have Resettled in the U.S. Since 1975
This significant total reflects the tremendous impact that refugees have had on the U.S. and its culture since 1975. Each person or family that is resettled embeds deeply into their communities, building lives and contributing to the economy. America is a “melting pot” of immigrants, and we should celebrate our rich history of accepting refugees and other vulnerable people.
5. The Entire Application Process Can Take Up to Two Years
As discussed above, the U.S. refugee application process involves many separate organizations. Each organization carefully considers the history and qualifications of any applicant for refugee status. Unfortunately, the process can be quite lengthy, and during its entirety any applicant remains outside of the U.S. This often means that some refugees must live in crowded camps or settlements. Yet, if an applicant and his or her family clears the vetting process, the U.S. welcomes them and resettles them throughout the country. After one year, they can apply for a green card, which provides lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Eventually, refugees with LPR status can apply for naturalization should they desire.
Contact a Skilled Immigration Lawyer
The daily lives of refugees can be wildly stressful, as uncertainty and typically sub-par living conditions take their toll. It is essential that countries like the U.S. accept and resettle refugees from across the globe. Such humanitarian efforts ensure that as many people as possible receive a “second chance” for a life away from violence, heartache, and fear.
If you or a loved one are seeking official refugee status in the United States, you should consult with an expert immigration attorney immediately. Only an attorney certified by your state’s bar association has the necessary training and experience to properly guide your application. Adequate legal representation and guidance is essential for all who hope to immigrate the U.S.
The attorneys at Davis & Associates skillfully serve the Houston community, as well as clients across Texas. We stay informed and updated on new government reforms, regulations, and litigation in order to provide top-tier representation. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation.
 Connor, P., & Krogstad, J.M. (2018, July 5). For the first time, U.S. resettles fewer refugees than the rest of the world. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org
The information and data presented within this article, unless otherwise cited or stated, derives from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). You can find the fiscal year (FY) 2017 full fact sheet for the United States here.