Refugee Admissions in FY 2020 Well Below Trump’s Record-Low Cap; Biden Eyes Significant Increase

Patrick Goodenough | September 22, 2020 | 4:26am EDT
Text Audio
00:00 00:00
Font Size
Refugees in a displaced persons' camp in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Refugees in a displaced persons' camp in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

( – With fewer than ten days of the fiscal year to go, the Trump administration has admitted just 10,233 refugees into the United States since October 1 last year – 56.8 percent of the record-low cap of 18,000 admissions in FY 2020, which it set last fall.

The administration has yet to announce a refugee resettlement ceiling for fiscal year 2021.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, however, has pledged if elected to set a cap of 125,000 refugees a year, with the aim to raise it further “over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need.”

Biden’s promised ceiling would be the highest since 1993, when a cap of 142,000 was established (although actual admissions that year were somewhat lower, just below 120,000).

The highest ceiling on refugee admissions fixed during the Obama-Biden administration was 85,000, in 2016, while under President George W. Bush the annual caps ranged between 70,000 and 80,000, and under President Clinton between 78,000 and 142,000.

In his closing months in office, President Obama set a refugee admission ceiling of 110,000 for FY 2017 which, had it survived the change of administration, would have been the highest in 22 years.

Instead President Trump, days after his inauguration, signed an executive order lowering the FY 2017 cap to 50,000 admissions.

Trump then lowered the cap to 45,000 in FY 2018, and in FY 2019 to 30,000 – at the time the lowest set by any administration since the modern-day refugee admission program began in 1980.

Last fall he set a ceiling of just 18,000, and in a year plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, global upheaval, and travel restrictions, the actual number of refugees resettled in the U.S. by the end of this month looks likely to be a lot lower than that.

(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)
(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

(Actual admissions over the years have typically been 80-90 percent of the annual cap for that year, although there have been exceptions: In 1983 the number of refugees admitted comprised just 68 percent of that year’s cap, while in the two years after 9/11, admissions under the Bush administration reached just 38 and 40 percent of the annual ceilings. In 2018, actual admissions made up just under half of that year’s ceiling of 45,000.)

According to State Department Refugee Processing Center data, the largest groups of refugees resettled in the U.S. during the soon-to-end fiscal year come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (2,515 admissions as of Tuesday), Ukraine (1,776), and Burma (1,707).

Other countries accounting for sizeable groups of refugees included Afghanistan (600), Iraq (463), Eritrea (408), Syria (397), and Moldova (333).

Monthly admission numbers varied widely. The fiscal year began with not a single refugee resettled during the month of October – for the first time since the 1980 Refugee Act was enacted.

Monthly arrivals then exceeded 1,000 for the next five months, before dropping to just 27 in April. May, June and July saw 134, 210, and 151 refugees admitted, before the numbers picked up again to above 1,000 in August and September.

(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)
(Graph: State Department Refugee Processing Center)

Refugees identifying as Christians comprise 73.6 percent of FY 2020 total. Christians of various denominations make up a large majority of the refugees hailing from DRC, Ukraine, Burma, Moldova, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Russia.

Refugees identifying as Muslims account for 22.5 percent of the total, comprising large majorities among the groups of refugees from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

From Iraq, the breakdown is 72 percent Muslim, 24 percent Muslim, and three percent Yazidi.

Of the 115 refugees from Iran, 36 percent are Christians, 19 percent are Muslims, and 11 percent are Baha’i.

Of 168 refugees from Pakistan, 27 percent are Muslims, 15 percent are Christians, and 58 percent are Ahmadis, adherents of a Muslim sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and criminalized under Pakistan’s penal code.

mrc merch