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The Trump administration has announced that it plans to reduce refugee admissions to the United States next year from 45,000 to 30,000. This would be the lowest ceiling for refugee admissions since 1980.
The current fiscal year’s ceiling of 45,000 includes 19,000 from Africa, just over 40 percent of the total. The fiscal year runs from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018. However, as of August 31, The United States admitted only 9,007 African refugees. The countries from which the largest number of refugees were admitted are the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 6,820, followed by Ethiopia with 261, Somalia with 250, Burundi with 157, and Central African Republic with 136. In the first two weeks of September, another 559 refugees from Africa have been admitted, though a breakdown by nationality is not yet available. Notably, the refugee admissions from other world regions, with the exception of Europe, are also far below the ceilings established for this fiscal year.
Of the 19,000 spots for African refugees, 13,500 will be referred to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, U.S. embassies, or designated nongovernmental organizations. The remaining 5,500 spots come from groups identified by the U.S. Department of State as in need of resettlement, usually in consultation with other states and the United Nations. This year, 5,000 spots had been allocated to Congolese living in Rwanda and Tanzania, and the other 500 allocated to asylum seekers from certain countries with immediate family in the United States who themselves have asylum status. At present, those countries are Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Unfortunately, the breakdown of admissions for the upcoming fiscal year into these three categories is not available.
It is usual for the number of refugees admitted to the United States in a given year to approach or even surpass the ceiling. For example, in the 2016 fiscal year, some 31,000 African refugees were admitted, about four thousand more than the ceiling of 27,500 for that year.
Admission to the United States as a refugee is a difficult and time consuming process. Eligibility for consideration for admission is determined by U.S. officials on a case by case basis and requires the applicant to demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on criteria such as race, religion, or political or social affiliation. Having established eligibility, a refugee applicant is exhaustively vetted by multiple government entities, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security and several security agencies. If approved, the potential refugee is placed on a list and then admitted to the United States when a refugee admissions number becomes available. Generally, nuclear families are admitted together.
Africa has a huge refugee population, and an even larger population of internally displaced persons—those who have been forced from home but have not crossed an international border. For those concerned about the relationship of the United States with Africa, the worry is that the reduction in the refugee admissions ceiling will be seen as yet another unfriendly act by the United States to the region. However, Congress in the past has overturned the executive branch’s proposed refugee admissions ceiling and there is a good chance that it will again in response to the concerns of American citizens and refugee advocates.