Under the proposed admissions levels, the United States next year will accept up to 40,000 refugees from Africa, 15,000 from East Asia, 10,000 from Europe and Central Asia, 15,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean and 35,000 from near East and South Asia. Another 10,000 refugees can be accepted from any region.
The announcement comes as the Biden administration also comes under scrutiny for the evacuation of civilians in Afghanistan who aided the U.S. military during the nearly 20-year U.S. involvement there, which ended last month.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the cap “reaffirms our commitment to refugee resettlement in line with our long tradition of providing a safe haven and opportunity to individuals fleeing persecution.”
“With the world facing unprecedented global displacement and humanitarian needs, the United States is committed to leading efforts to provide protection and promote durable solutions to humanitarian crises, to include providing resettlement for the most vulnerable,” Price said.
Refugee advocates on Monday applauded the announcement, while pushing the administration to invest additional resources to ensure that the maximum number of refugees can be successfully resettled in the United States. The 125,000 is a ceiling, and administrations in the past have occasionally not met their target admissions.
“Raising this cap without dedicating significant resources, personnel and measures to streamline the process would be largely symbolic,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “It is vital that we see more refugee processing officers out in the field conducting the necessary interviews.
The 125,000 number was the goal Biden set during his presidential bid. In May, he raised the cap for the current fiscal year to 62,500 from the record low of 15,000 set by the Trump administration, which Biden initially had wanted to keep.
“I applaud the Biden administration for setting a target of 125,000 refugee admissions in the next fiscal year — a target my colleagues and I have been advocating for since April,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And while I’m disappointed in the projected number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year, I acknowledge the challenges the Biden administration inherited with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program due to the anti-immigrant actions of the previous administration.”
The refugee report, which the State Department released in conjunction with the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, outlined several areas of priorities.
“In FY 2022, the Administration plans to increase the [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program] target with a particular focus on several key populations and programs: expanded resettlement of Central Americans; enhanced access to the USRAP for Afghans at risk due to their affiliation with the United States; increased resettlement of LGBTQI+ refugees; priority access for at-risk Uyghurs, Hong Kong refugees, and Burmese dissidents; and resettlement of Burmese Rohingya,” the report states.
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim minority that faces discrimination in Myanmar.
The thousands of Afghan civilians who have been evacuated since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan do not count toward the refugee caps because they either qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa or are considered humanitarian parolees. Mark Hetfield at HIAS, another refugee nonprofit organization, said he and other advocates are pushing for those granted humanitarian parole to be offered benefits that are granted to refugees — which at this point would need congressional action.
“We are hoping Congress will legislate for the parolees refugee like benefits and a pathway to family reunification, lawful permanent residence and citizenship,” Hetfield said. “If that doesn’t happen then they should be adjudicated as refugees (in which case the ceiling will help) or asylees.”
The report also noted that the refugee processing process “ground to a halt or were severely impacted” due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It said “the situation has improved in most locations” but “progress is uneven and not linear.”
The State Department is legally required to formally consult with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on the administration’s refugee admissions plans every year. That consultation, led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is scheduled to occur next week, according to two officials familiar with the planning.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stressed in a brief interview that it was critical for key lawmakers to be sufficiently consulted on the refugee caps. He added that if the 125,000 level was “just for one year,” then he would “go along with it.”
“But if they think they’re going to keep it that high … [in] succeeding years, then I’m going to be opposed to it,” Grassley said.