How many refugees did the US take in in the past decade?

America recognizes the rights of individuals as stipulated in federal and international law. Among those rights is the right of any person to seek asylum provided they meet the eligibility requirements. America receives and processes thousands of refugee and asylum applications yearly. These refugees and asylum seekers end up in Austin, TX, and many other places around America.

Over the past four decades (since 1980), over 2 million refugees have arrived and gotten refuge in America. Between 2005 and 2007 alone, over 40,000 individuals applying for refugee status were accepted into America every year, contributing to 10% of total immigration. In 2014, the UNHCR ranked America 28th out of 43 industrialized countries in regards to per capita refugee admission.

According to Refugee Processing Center (RPC) data between the years 1975 and 2019, the US has consistently admitted thousands of refugees yearly with years 1975, 1980, 1981, recording the highest refugee admissions at approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people. In 1980, over 200,000 refugees were admitted to the US.

How Many Asylum Applications are Approved in the US?

Approximately 60% of asylum cases are rejected or failed. 33% of applications end up in court unrepresented, yet asylum seekers who get legal help increase their chances of securing asylum by 300%.

Refugee Quotas in the US

The number of refugees taken by the US is dependent on the proposal of a president in office. Every year, the US president sends Congress a proposal with the maximum no. of refugees that should be admitted in America the following fiscal year. This is provided for under the INA Sec: 207(e)(1)-(7).

The refugee ceiling or the max. number of refugees dictates the amount refugee advocates should lobby and raise. On the other hand, it dictates how anti-immigration groups plan to lower the “ceiling”.

Generally, Congress accepts the refugee ceiling without a lot of debate. In many cases, congressional approval isn’t required. The current president’s administration is supposed to give a justified humanitarian concern or national interest to support the suggested refugee ceiling. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, for instance, disrupted refugee settlement claims, reducing the number of settled individuals to approximately 26,000 in 2002.

The attacks made refugee claims face more scrutiny. The aftermath of the attacks saw new procedures in place for detecting possible terrorist infiltration. Nonetheless, refugees have and continue to be admitted to the US every year.

Number of Refugees by Demographics

Refugees by Nationality

In 2019, research shows that the US welcomed refugees from DRC more than any other country. Congo accounted for approximately 13,000 refugees, followed by Myanmar, Ukraine, Eritrea, and Afghanistan at 4,900, 4,500, 1,800, and 1,200, respectively. Over the past two decades (from 2001 to 2019), most refugees in the US have been from Burma (177,000), Iraq (144,000), and Somalia (104,000).

Refugees by Religion

The US doesn’t discriminate against refugees based on any factors, including religion. Recently (in 2019), research data shows the US welcomed more Christians (79%) than Muslim refugees. In the past (i.e., 2016), there were more Muslim refugees arriving in the US than Christians. From 2002 to 2019, the number of refugee immigrants stood at 464,000+ Christians and 310,000+ Muslims.

Refugees by State

In 2019, states like Washington, Texas, California, and New York hosted approximately 25% of all refugees. From 2002 to 2019, California has hosted approximately 108,000 refugees, with Texas coming in second at 88,000+ refugees.

Refugee Integration or Resettlement in America

Many factors determine the number of refugees that make it to America and get resettled. The process begins in US embassies and consulates abroad which have state department employees. The UNHCR is responsible for handling refugee status matters alongside the hosting country.

Most refugees that have made it to America over the decades have made it through integration or resettlement. There are three main categories of refugee applications for resettlement, namely, priority one, two & three.

Priority One Refugees: Most refugees who get resettled in America are priority one meaning they are granted refugee status because they face compelling personal security concerns in their countries of first asylum. Such persons need legal protection since they risk refoulement. Priority one refugees may also be facing the risk of imminent armed attack or recent political, human rights, or religious persecution. Victims of torture, victims of gender-based violence, persons with disabilities or in need of immediate treatment missing in their first asylum country also qualify as priority one refugees. As the name suggests, these refugees get the first priority to be resettled in the US.

Priority Two Refugees: Groups of individuals designated as special concern groups by the US government make up priority two groups. The group is identified as per a congressional representative act. Examples of individuals who qualified as priority two refugees in the past include Jews, orthodox, Evangelical Christians in the Soviet Union with family members in America.

Individuals fleeing Burma who were registered in refugee camps in the Thai/Burma border also qualified as priority two refugees as per the UNHCR qualifying them for resettlement at the time.

Priority Three Refugees: Groups that qualify as priority three refugees are those with family members in the US. This category is about reunification. Refugees in the US are brought in every year to be reunified with close family members with refugee status in America. Immigration compiles a list of individuals to be considered for priority three resettlement every year. The list is guided by past and present resettled refugees in America and their family members who are refugees and wish to reunite with their loved ones in America.

Conclusion: How Many Refugees Did the US Take in from 1980 to 2019?

Since 1980 (when the Refugee Act was past), America has accepted over 3.8 million asylees and refugees. The number of refugees that get resettled in the US is set every year by the current administration through a refugee quota that is approved by Congress.

After the quota is set, it is up to organizations like the UNHCR, alongside other government and non-governmental agencies, to help refugees get resettled. Most importantly, refugees who seek legal assistance have a higher chance of being resettled.

Getting a refugee status or becoming an asylee is a complex process that requires the expertise of an immigration attorney to be among the 40% of asylum applications that are approved.


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