The Biden administration is set to formally raise its cap on refugee admissions to 62,500 for the fiscal year, the White House announced on Monday after facing blowback last month for initially announcing it would keep limits set by former President Donald Trump.
“Today, I am revising the United States’ annual refugee admissions cap to 62,500 for this fiscal year,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees. The new admissions cap will also reinforce efforts that are already underway to expand the United States’ capacity to admit refugees, so that we can reach the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions that I intend to set for the coming fiscal year.”
The administration also added that, though it was not likely to reach 62,500 admissions this year ― which ends Sept. 30 — it aimed “to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries. This will reassert American leadership and American values when it comes to refugee admissions.”
Last month, the administration initially said it would keep Trump’s record-low refugee target at just 15,000 for the remainder of this fiscal year despite pledging to increase that number on the campaign trail. Immigration advocates and top Democrats slammed that decision as “incoherent” and “cruel.” Mere hours later, the White House walked back that initial number, and said it would announce the new cap in the upcoming weeks.
“The challenge of ramping up admissions to this level is daunting, but America has risen to the occasion before, and given the global need, we must do it again,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement. Not only is there federal support for this lifesaving work, there is also strong community support across the country and across the political spectrum.”
“Generations of Americans have opened their doors and their hearts to refugees, and their presence has made rural towns and urban centers safer, more vibrant, and economically stronger communities,” she added.
According to the presidential determination, 22,000 slots for the 2021 fiscal year will be allocated to refugees from Africa, 6,000 slots for East Asia, 13,000 slots for Near East and South Asia, 4,000 slots for Europe and Central Asia, and an additional 5,000 slots for Latin America and the Caribbean. An additional 12,500 slots are available in a reserve to be used as needed.
While running for president and after he was sworn in, Biden repeatedly promised to raise the refugee cap, which Trump decimated. But nearly a month after announcing its plans, the administration delayed signing the formal refugee cap. Without his signature, hundreds of refugee flights were canceled, refugees from several Muslim majority countries were excluded and refugee agencies across the globe were left in the dark.
For months, refugee agencies called on Biden for answers to no avail. People close to the White House speculated that the administration delayed signing the directive due to concerns of political optics as the administration struggled to care for the surge of migrants and unaccompanied children at the border.
The White House also initially said that federal agencies were overwhelmed by the border surges ― a reasoning that was sharply criticized by refugee resettlement organizations and activists. Migrants at the border seeking asylum are processed separately from refugees fleeing war and persecution overseas.
“We are relieved that the Biden administration has, after a long and unnecessary delay, kept its promise to raise the refugee admissions cap for this year to 62,500,” said Lauren Hartnett, humanitarian media lead at Oxfam America, in a statement. “This announcement means the United States can finally begin to rebuild the life-saving refugee resettlement program and welcome the tens of thousands of people who have been left stranded by four years of the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies and three months of the Biden administration’s inaction.”