WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year.
Refugees advocates have been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The more than four-decade-old program suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration, which slashed admissions to a record low of 15,000.
After taking office, Biden quadrupled the number of refugee admissions permitted for the remaining months of the 2021 budget year. He then set the target at 125,000 for the 2022 budget year, which ends Sept. 30. But so far fewer than 20,000 refugees have been admitted.
That number excludes the roughly 180,000 Ukrainians and Afghans who came to the United States via a legal process called humanitarian parole that got them into the country more quickly than the traditional refugee program but only allows for stays of up to two years.
Refugees are provided a path to permanent residency. Their admissions are determined by the president each year, and federal funding for resettlement agencies is based on the number of people they resettle in a given year.
The 125,000 target “is justified by humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest," Biden stated in his presidential determination. Historically, the average has been 95,000 under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Biden earmarked 5,000 more slots for people from Europe and Central Asia for the 2023 budget year, making room to accommodate those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
The largest number of slots — 40,000 — was set aside for refugees from Africa, followed by 35,000 from South Asia and 15,000 each from East Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Biden has struggled to restore the U.S. Refugee Program despite raising the numbers and removing bureaucratic barriers put in place by his predecessor, which slowed the process and led to a massive backlog.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the Biden administration must act now to improve the refugee program with the United Nations reporting a record 100 million people being displaced from their homes.
“It must ramp up and streamline overseas processing of refugee applications if this lifesaving program is to remain relevant amid an unprecedented global displacement crisis," she said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that “this ambitious target demonstrates that the United States is committed to rebuilding and strengthening the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program" through various means. He pointed to plans for a pilot program that is expected to get underway by the end of the year that will allow regular Americans to sign up to resettle refugees in their communities, much like U.S. citizens did in stepping up to help Afghans and Ukrainians over the past year.
Traditionally refugees are placed in communities by nine refugee resettlement agencies.
“Our refugee admissions program embodies the best of American values and the will to help those in need, and it will continue to provide access to resettlement as a lifesaving, durable solution," Blinken said.