110,000 Refugees Resettled in the U.S in FY 2017?

By Nayla Rush, September 20, 2016

President's Obama's deep commitment to the refugee cause following the Syrian crisis and its five million refugees is now well established.

We predicted in a previous blog the arrival of at least 12,000 Syrian refugees by the end of FY 2016 on September 30 (surpassing the Obama administration's "floor-not-ceiling" target of 10,000).

Following the release of the government's "Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2017" report to Congress we know that number to be even higher. The Obama administration announced it is expecting a total of 13,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this fiscal year.

It's Official: (Only) 110,000 Refugees in FY 2017

The government also uncovered its refugee admission target of 110,000 for FY 2017. This number might seem substantial — with an increase of almost 30 percent from the 85,000 admitted this year — but we expected it to be even higher. When this administration set its FY 2016 refugee resettlement target of 85,000, it also aimed for 100,000 in FY 2017. Surprisingly, it increased its 2017 proposed target by only 10,000. President Obama was pressed to welcome as many as 140,000 refugees in FY 2017. Political considerations in the midst of a heated presidential race may have influenced his final decision.

Refugee Admissions (Including Syrian Refugees)

FY 2016 projected arrivals and FY 2017 proposed refugee admissions are detailed by region in the newly released report to Congress:


  FY 2016 Projected Arrivals FY 2017 Proposed Ceiling
Africa 27,500 35,000
East Asia 14,000 12,000
Europe and Central Asia 4,000 4,000
Latin America and the Caribbean 1,500 5,000
Near East and South Asia 38,000 40,000
Unallocated Reserve   14,000
Total 85,000 110,000

The exact number of Syrian refugees proposed for resettlement in FY 2017 is not provided, but other information is available in the report:

Out of the 85,000 refugees admitted in FY 2016, 72,000 were not Syrians. Out of the 110,000 projected to be admitted in 2017, 56,000 will not be Syrians (resettled from different regions).

The FY 2017 proposed regional ceiling of 40,000 for refugees from the Near East and South Asia encompasses the following nationalities: Syrians, Iraqis, Bhutanese, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Afghans (with no further detail as to the number pertaining to each nationality). But the U.S. government "anticipates the continued large-scale processing of Syrians and Iraqis and, to a lesser extent, Bhutanese, Afghans, and Iranians during FY 2017."

In FY 2017, the 14,000 allocated reserve could be for any nationality, but all 14,000 could be reserved for Syrians in view of the unprecedented scope of the Syrian crisis.

Syrians could be in either group: the 40,000 or the 14,000.

In FY 2016, out of the 38,000 refugees from Near East and South Asia, 13,000 were Syrians and all others (Iraqis, Bhutanese, Iranians, and Afghans) totaled 25,000.

If we assume that around the same number of Iraqis, Bhutanese, Iranians, and Afghans are to be admitted in 2017 and we subtract 40,000 from 25,000, we end up with a total of 15,000 Syrian refugees from the Near East and South Asia region. Again, assuming all unreserved 14,000 slots are assigned to Syrians, 29,000 (15,000 + 14,000) Syrian refugees (or more) could be resettled in FY 2017.

This is only an estimate, of course, but it is informed by the following information from the report:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referred 36,000 Syrian refugees for resettlement in 2015 and 100,000 in 2016. "The United States is playing a significant role in this effort. ... As of late June 2016, UNHCR has referred over 48,000 Syrians for U.S. resettlement consideration. ... With UNHCR's decision to significantly increase Syrian referrals for resettlement, the United States is ramping up processing operations in Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt in FY 2017."

Also: "[T]he United States aims to admit a significantly higher number [of Syrian refugees] in FY 2017 [than in FY 2016]."

Therefore, it is fair to assume that the number of resettled Syrian refugees in FY 2017 will be, at a minimum, double this year's 13,000, and could reach 30,000 or more.

Refugee Resettlement Costs

The refugee resettlement program comes with a cost. The estimated available funding for refugee processing and resettlement for FY 2017 is $1.54 billion.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services — Refugee Processing: $67.8 million;

  • Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration —
    Refugee Admissions: $634.5 million; and

  • Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement — Refugee Resettlement: $841.9 million.

These are on top of the $5.6 billion in humanitarian aid the United States has contributed to the Syrian crisis since 2011. (This does not include substantial state and local costs for welfare and education.)

Mind the Side Door

The refugee resettlement program provides us with official numbers of refugee admissions per year. The United States resettled 13,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year and that number could double next year.

But we know that President Obama is encouraging other "legal pathways of admissions" for refugees. He is hosting today's "Leaders' Summit on Refugees" to push for "greater opportunities for legal resettlement or other legal pathways for admissions to safe countries." (Emphasis added.) He has also launched a "Call to Action" asking the private sector to help refugees in the region and in countries of resettlement like the United States. Private engagements and areas of action for refugees are numerous: scholarships and housing aid, job opportunities and training, and financial advice and assistance, including capital to start their own businesses etc.

We can keep track of those who are entering through the refugee resettlement program; it's harder to account for those who use the side door of "other legal pathways."