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News Link • Refugees

Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement

• Immigration Forum

Who is a refugee?

A person outside the U.S. seeking refuge. The U.S., based on international law, defines "refugee" as a person outside the country of his or her nationality, who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The legal basis for humanitarian admissions of refugees and asylum seekers to the United States began with the Refugee Act of 1980, which defined a refugee, established the Reception and Placement (R&P) program for initial resettlement under the U.S. Department of State, and created the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Who determines the number of refugee admissions?

The President of the United States. The number of refugees accepted to the United States each year is set by the President in consultation with Congress.

What is the refugee limit for fiscal year 2018?

45,000. Although historically the U.S. has resettled more refugees than any other country, its resettlement program has not kept up with increase of the global refugee population that has increased by about 50 percent over the past five years.

While there were approximately 16.5 million refugees worldwide as of fiscal year (FY) 2016, the U.S. currently resettles just a small fraction of them. Less than 1 percent of the total number of displaced people on the world will ever be resettled to one of 36 current resettlement countries. In FY 2016, the U.S. admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, a number that declined to fewer than 54,000 refugees in FY 2017, the lowest number in a decade after President Trump reduced the cap on refugee admissions via executive order.

For FY 2018, the president further reduced the refugee admission cap to 45,000, the lowest since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980. However, the cap represents the maximum number of refugees that may be resettled in a year and the Trump administration is unlikely to resettle anywhere close to 45,000 people in FY 2018, failing so far to keep pace with the 3,750 refugees who would need to be resettled each month to reach the annual ceiling.

Where do refugees resettling in the U.S. come from?

All around the world. The United States admits refugees from more than 60 countries all around the globe. In FY 2017, most of those admitted in came from Africa and Middle East, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Syria comprising the top three countries of origin.

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