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How America’s refugee population has changed over time

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Each year, the United States permanently resettles more refugees than any country in the world, but the number and composition of official refugees in America isn’t always stable.

First, keep in mind that a refugee is an official designation with various regional caps, and applicants are generally required to prove they’ve been persecuted in their home country. Dara Lind has a nice explainer on the pros and cons of U.S. refugee policy here. Asylum, by contrast, can be sought by people already in the United States.

This excellent chart from Christopher Inkpen and Ruth Igielnik at Pew FactTank shows historical trends in admitting refugees into America. It’s based on data from the Refugee Processing Center, which is operated by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

As Pew writes, the number of refugees America admits is back near the historical norm. In post-9/11 America, that number fell significantly. In fiscal 2013, there were 69,926 refugees admitted to the United States, up from 27,131 in 2002.

To get a more current snapshot of America’s official refugee population, we can look at the Refugee Processing Center’s data on arrivals, rather than official admissions. (Admissions can often take a year or more; you can find more about the official criteria for admission as a refugee here.)

Even as an unofficial refugee crisis has mounted on America’s border with Mexico, there hasn’t been a big uptick in official refugee arrivals from Latin America. Other data certainly does show a big increase in unaccompanied minors on America’s southern border, and the United States is considering granting refugee status to some Hondurans to help solve this problem.

Here’s a look at refugee arrivals by region of origin since October:

For fiscal 2013, the number of refugee arrivals from Latin America and the Caribbean are dwarfed by the arrivals from other parts of the globe:

And here’s a bit more information on America’s refugee population, sorted by language: