Low Refugee Admissions So Far in FY 2022

The Biden administration is prioritizing those fleeing poverty, not war

By Nayla Rush on May 11, 2022

Refugee admissions under President Biden remain low despite an ambitious ceiling of 125,000 resettlement spots. Seven months into FY 2022 (October 1, 2021, through April 30, 2022), only 10,742 refugees were resettled in the United States. The Biden administration is privileging people fleeing poverty (migrants), not those fleeing danger (refugees). The border crisis and its illegal crossings (along with other new entrants in need of processing, such as Afghan parolees) are overwhelming the system and diverting federal resources away from refugees in need of resettlement.

Low refugee admissions under Biden (despite high ceilings) are becoming a trend. Back in FY 2021 (October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021), only 11,411 refugees (18 percent of Biden’s announced target of 62,500) were resettled in the United States. FY 2021 admissions were the lowest refugee admissions since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980. They are even lower than any year under Trump, including FY 2020, which saw the lowest refugee admissions during the that administration (due to travel restrictions and the suspension of the worldwide refugee resettlement program following the Covid-19 pandemic). For a closer look at refugee admissions under Trump and Biden, refer to my Refugee Resettlement Roundup.

Biden blamed Trump for the limited number of refugees resettled during his presidency: “We are working quickly to undo the damage [to the refugee resettlement program] of the last four years.”

But the reality is that those limited numbers are mostly due to the U.S. southern border crisis, which is diverting resources at the border, and the Afghan crisis and its evacuees in need of processing and assistance here. Federal agencies’ resources are not unlimited; they keep being drained by illegal border crossings and the processing of asylum claims (whether in or out of country) and other visa procedures such as Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), adjustment of status, parole, and temporary protection status.

Those expecting the arrival of tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees (Biden committed in March to welcoming up to 100,000) might soon be disappointed.

Another sign of the diversion of attention and resources to various groups other than refugees is the expansion of the populations that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) serves. ORR beneficiaries are numerous and persons with various statuses (not just resettled refugees) are eligible for benefits and services from the Refugee Resettlement Program. ORR has somewhat lost its focus on resettled refugees and is more and more diverting its resources to various other populations (like border-crossers from Central America and others) who are not fleeing danger, but looking for opportunity. Another category of people was recently added to this list of beneficiaries: Afghan parolees. (For a detailed list of the various categories of ORR beneficiaries, refer to my post “Extending ORR Benefits and Beneficiaries”.)

ORR recently announced the extension of the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) and Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) programs from eight to 12 months. Federal agencies’ resources are being drained and resettlement benefits and beneficiaries extended.

Below are the monthly admissions and top nationalities for the first seven months of FY 2022 (data retrieved from the Refugee Processing Center portal):

October 1, 2021, to April 30, 2022:

  • October 2021: 402
  • November 2021: 1,639
  • December 2021: 1,227
  • January 2022: 1,094
  • February 2022: 2,133
  • March 2022: 2,263
  • April 2022: 1,984
  • Total: 10,742

Top Nationalities:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: 2,528
  • Syria: 2,511
  • Sudan: 1,170
  • Burma: 928
  • Ukraine: 809
  • Guatemala: 489
  • Afghanistan: 313
  • El Salvador: 284
  • Honduras: 249
  • Iraq: 235
  • Somalia: 219

The three countries in bold are the Northern Triangle of Central America, and so far this fiscal year the number of resettled refugees from the Northern Triangle countries is similar to the number resettled from Ukraine and Afghanistan, with the three-country total of 1,022 exceeding either of those two refugee hotspots.

Ukrainian Refugees: Monthly Admissions in FY 2022

  • October 2021: 82
  • November 2021: 73
  • December 2021: 23
  • January 2022: 87
  • February 2022: 427
  • March 2022: 12
  • April 2022: 105
  • Total: 809

On December 31, 2021, I predicted the following:

U.S. refugee policy will continue to privilege people fleeing poverty (migrants), not those fleeing danger (refugees). Resettled refugee admissions should remain low and President Biden’s 125,000 ceiling out of reach. Instead of giving protection to real refugees in need of resettlement, this administration will keep prioritizing “Afghans at risk” and evacuees as well as Central American (and other) migrants who, for the most part, are using asylum claims as an entry ticket to the United States.

I concluded with this: “I expect refugee advocates’ ongoing praise of Biden’s refugee policy, regardless of its accomplishments (or lack thereof).”

I guess I wasn’t off the mark.

Topics: Refugees