Millions of Refugees Admitted to the U.S. Since 1975

Migrants seeking for asylum in the United States, are seen talking to a Customs and Border Protection agent at the San Isidro Port of Entry, on May 26, 2016, in Tijuana, northwestern Mexico. On the past couple of weeks some 600 hundred migrants, mainly from Haiti and some African countries, …

Millions of refugees from across the globe have been resettled in the United States at varying paces over the past four decades.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of State Department data, the U.S. has admitted more than 3 million refugees since 1975.

While refugees to the U.S. have come from all over the world, in recent years the U.S. has seen more refugees arriving from Africa and the Middle East. This fiscal year through May, Pew highlights, the U.S. admitted 8,112 refugees from Burma, 6,350 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 5,780 from Somalia, 5,385 from Iraq, 2,924 from Bhutan, 2,805 from Syria, 2,049 from Iran.

Refugee admissions hit a high point in 1980 when then-President Jimmy Carter raised refugee quotas, allowing for more than 200,000 refugee admissions. Following the surge in 1980, refugee admissions slumped but remained between 50,000 and about 130,000 annually through the year 2000. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, however, the number refugees admitted to the U.S. plummeted. Since the early 2000s, decline, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has been on a more upward trajectory.

“The number of refugees experienced a dramatic dip following the passing of the Patriot Act in 2001 – fewer than 30,000 refugees were let into the U.S. each year in 2002 and 2003, down 60% from the pre-9/11 level in 2001,” Pew reports. “But upticks in the number of refugees came in 2004 with a wave of Somali refugees, and in 2008 when thousands of Burmese and Bhutanese were granted refugee status.”

More recently, in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, President Barack Obama has set a goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. by the end of this fiscal year. Obama has stuck to the resettlement goal despite concerns voiced by top security officials that ISIS or other Islamic terrorists will infiltrate the refugee flow. In April the Obama administration began to dramatically accelerate its processing rate for Syrian refugees.

Unlike other new arrivals to the U.S. refugees are immediately eligible for welfare benefits like food stamps, cash assistance, and Medicaid.

Notably a report from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) revealed high levels of welfare use among refugees from the Middle East in particular. The report showed that that in FY 2013, 91.4 percent of Middle Eastern refugees (accepted to the U.S. between 2008-2013) received food stamps, 73.1 percent were on Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance and 68.3 percent were receiving cash assistance.


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