Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy

Publication Date: January 2002

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Population and demographics



A refugee is a person fleeing his or her country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Typically, the annual number of refugees admitted into the United States and the allocation of these numbers by region are set by the President after consultation with Congress by the start of each fiscal year. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, however, the usual process was not followed for FY2002. President Bush did not issue the Presidential Determination setting the FY2002 refugee numbers and allocations until November 21, 2001. In the absence of that Presidential Determination, no refugees could be admitted into the country after October 1, 2001. In addition, following a postSeptember 11 assessment of refugee-related security procedures, enhanced security procedures are now in place. Refugee admissions into the United States resumed the week of December 10, 2001.

The FY2002 refugee ceiling is 70,000, as compared to the FY2001 level of 80,000. The Administration maintains that the reduction is necessary in order improve the quality of the refugee admissions program. For FY2002, the refugee numbers are allocated, as follows: Europe (26,000), Africa (22,000), Near East/South Asia (15,000), East Asia (4,000), and Latin America/Caribbean (3,000).

Overseas processing of refugees is conducted through a system of three priorities for admission. Priority one includes cases involving persons facing compelling security concerns in the countries of first asylum (i.e., foreign countries to which refugees have fled). Priority two includes cases involving persons from specific groups, e.g., certain Somali nationals. Priority three includes cases involving close relatives of persons who have already resettled in the United States and possess legal immigration status.

Special legislative provisions facilitate relief for certain former Soviet and Indochinese nationals. The "Lautenberg amendment" allows certain former Soviet and Indochinese nationals to qualify for refugee status based on their membership in a protected category with a credible, but not necessarily individual, fear of persecution. Another provision, initially proposed by Senator McCain and still referred to as the "McCain amendment," makes certain adult children of Vietnamese re-education camp survivors eligible for U.S. refugee resettlement. Both provisions expired at the end of FY2001. P.L. 107-116, enacted on January 10, 2002, extends the "Lautenberg amendment" through FY2002. Also in the 107th Congress, a bill (H.R. 1840) to revise and extend the "McCain amendment" through FY2003 has been passed by the House and reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ORR) administers an initial transitional assistance program for temporarily dependent refugees and Cuban/Haitian entrants. For FY2002, P.L. 107-116 provides $460.2 million for HHS/ORR. The FY2001 appropriation was $433.1 million. Special refugee cash assistance (RCA) and refugee medical assistance (RMA) typically account for over half the HHS/ORR annual budget.