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United States fell far short of refugee goal last fiscal year

The figure marks a significant uptick from fiscal 2021, which was a record low for the refugee resettlement program

Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in August 2021, after leaving Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban. The official tally of refugees who entered the country last fiscal year does not include those from Afghanistan or Ukraine.
Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in August 2021, after leaving Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban. The official tally of refugees who entered the country last fiscal year does not include those from Afghanistan or Ukraine. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The U.S. took in fewer than 26,000 refugees this past fiscal year, roughly 100,000 short of the Biden administration’s stated goal but significantly more than the previous fiscal year, according to official data released Wednesday by the State Department.

The federal government resettled 25,465 refugees in fiscal 2022, which spans from October 2021 through September. The final figure, which was not unexpected based on public monthly data reports, marks a significant uptick from the roughly 11,000 refugees resettled in fiscal 2021, which was a record low in the history of the refugee resettlement program.

But the fiscal 2022 total still falls far below what President Joe Biden had promised when he set a refugee admissions goal of 125,000 last year, a lofty aim his administration has again set for fiscal 2023, which began over the weekend.

The annual number, though higher than several years of the Trump administration, is lower than each year before President Donald Trump took office dating back to fiscal 1977, when the U.S. resettled about 19,900 refugees.

The fiscal 2022 total includes about 7,000 refugees from South Asia and the Near East, 2,500 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 2,350 from Europe and Central Asia, 2,200 from East Asia and 11,400 from Africa.

Almost half of the refugees who arrived last fiscal year hailed from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria.

The total does not, however, include the tens of thousands of individuals who were evacuated to the U.S. from Ukraine and Afghanistan this year under humanitarian parole, a temporary immigration status used in urgent crises. Some of these individuals may ultimately be able to qualify for refugee status after a lengthy application process.

A State Department spokesperson said that rebuilding the refugee admissions program “is a priority for this administration.”

“We are focused on increasing capacity, expediting processing, and resolving long-delayed cases, all while continuing to maintain the program’s rigorous screening and vetting standards. We are also increasing our community consultations and expanding our domestic partnerships to ensure a wider and deeper network of partners are able to effectively support new arrivals,” the spokesperson said.

Biden administration officials have previously blamed the low refugee admissions figures on the prior administration for leaving the refugee resettlement system in tatters, as well as on the COVID-19 pandemic for hindering international travel and visa processing abroad.

The Trump administration slashed the refugee ceiling — the administration’s stated goal for resettlement — to 18,000 for fiscal 2020 and 15,000 for fiscal 2021, the lowest an administration had ever set.

Speaking at a panel in Washington in late September, Lawrence Bartlett, the State Department’s refugee resettlement director, said the Trump administration’s efforts led to a refugee system that was “underpopulated and under-resourced.”

“That, I think, has been partially restored and continues to be restored. It is certainly an initiative of this administration,” Bartlett said.

Immigrant advocates have called on the administration to boost refugee resettlement this fiscal year.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a refugee resettlement agency, called on the administration to be “aggressive and innovative” in ramping up admissions in fiscal 2023.

“That should include building on areas where we have seen some encouraging progress, such as the implementation of additional personnel, remote interviews, a robust and thoughtful private sponsorship pilot, and other measures to streamline the application process,” she said.

Danilo Zak of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group, said in a news release Monday, following an earlier report with preliminary figures, that the final number shows “steps in the right direction compared with 2021.”

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “President Biden and Congress must continue rebuilding and resourcing our resettlement infrastructure.”

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