Skip to main content

US Refugee Program

The US Refugee Program 

In 1939, the U.S. turned away a boat of 900 Jewish refugees, forcing them back to Europe, many to their deaths. Recognizing the error of its ways, 40, years later, the U.S. enacted the U.S. Refugee Act, and became  a global leader in refugee protection and resettlement.

There is an unprecedented global refugee crisis and yet, on Monday, September 17, 2018, the Trump administration continued to decimate the refugee program, announcing it will cap refugee admissions at 30,000, the lowest level in U.S. history. The existence of the US Refugee Resettlement program is in peril.

Few will dispute that U.S. actions in 1939 were inhumane and based on ignorance and unfounded fears. Yet today we are ignoring these lessons from history. By closing the door to tens of thousands of refugees, we are failing once again to live up to the ideals and moral principles that make America great.


This Administration is doing everything it can from outright bans, budget cuts and reducing refugee admissions to the lowest number since the start of the program. The US Refugee Resettlement program is currently on pace to welcome the fewest refugees in its history

  • More than 25 million refugees have been displaced from their homes.
  • In FY2017 Presidential Determination was 110,000
  • In FY2016, the US accepted approximately 85,000 refugees from all over the world, up from 70,000 in 2015. Ten thousand were Syrian.
  • President Trump reduced the FY2018 number by Executive Order, to 45,000To ensure that 45,000 would not be admitted, the administration further implemented a series of needless bureaucratic slowdowns in the admissions system.
  • in 2018, only 22,000 refugees were admitted, the lowest number of refugees since the start of the resettlement program.
  • Since 1981, the U.S. has resettled an average of 76,773 refugees per year.

  • The vast majority are family reunifications, bringing spouses back together, returning children to their parents care.

  • In 2018 the US admitted less than half of the historically low ceiling of 45,000 refugee admissions.

With a ceiling reduced by one third for 2019, how many refugees might we expect to be admitted in FY 2019?

What can you do? Let your voice be heard and advocate for refugees.  Call your Representative and Senators. 

For additional reading:

Trumps Huge Mistake on RefugeesBy Ariana A. Berengaut and Antony J. Blinken, September 11, 2018

U.S. Refugee Program 'in Danger" Amid Steep Drop In Refugee Arrivals, Advocates Warn, NPR,  July 24, 2018

Refugee Screening Prior to Entering the United States

The US vetting of refugees is the most rigorous screening in the world. It often takes several years to complete; the safety and security of the American people is always the top priority.

A refugee and his/her family must first decide that they wish to permanently resettle and integrate into a new country and culture. The majority of refugees do not choose to resettle, waiting instead to return home when conditions improve. Once that major decision is firmly made, refugees can apply to the United Nations which in turn works with the US and other nations to select and assign them to a new homeland.

When a refugee family is assigned to the US, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense investigate the family.  Individuals are fingerprinted and their identities verified. They are subject to numerous background checks, including checking for prior political or criminal activity. More details at www. screening.

Before coming to the US refugees participate in Cultural Orientation. Medical exams are conducted to make sure they carry no communicable diseases and to determine what level of US healthcare they will need.

The men, women, and children invited to become Americans are expected to pay for their airfare to the US; they often have to borrow from family or take loans for their travel.  Once they arrive they are legal entrants, fully documented, with many skills; however they often they lack knowledge of English and have little money.

For more information and statistics on refugee admissions to the United States, visit Or go to our Learn More page under Refugee Crisis.