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Rebuilding the refugee resettlement program

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The refugee resettlement goal for 2021 increases

On May 3rd the Biden Administration signed the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions, approving an admissions cap of 62,500 refugees to be resettled in fiscal year 2021. With this action, the US refugee resettlement program can now restart the processing of refugee cases, including scheduling travel for cases that have already been approved but were on hold waiting for the administration’s approval.

“This means a lot to me. Now I can reunite with my family members who still live in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. I can’t wait for this to happen.” Mohy Omer, USAHello Advisory Board Member

Rebuilding the refugee resettlement program

For decades, the USA was the leader in refugee protection, with strong public support from the American people. Under the Trump administration, however, the program was almost closed. Thousands of refugees who were expecting to come to the USA were left overseas in dangerous situations.

On February 4, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to restore the U.S. refugee resettlement program with a promise to increase the total number of refugees coming into the USA to 125,000 by 2022. These changes however can not go into effect until the official Presidential Determination is signed. 

During the time between the executive order and now, hundreds of refugee families scheduled to travel to the USA had their flights cancelled waiting for the program to restart. In April, the administration temporarily announced it would not increase the number for 2021 as previously promised, however after public outcry, the decision was reversed.

How soon can refugees start coming to the U.S.?

The resettlement process is long. Refugees have to go through several background checks, medical screenings, and interviews. For many refugees who were already approved to come to the USA, some of these clearances have now expired and they have to redo them before they can be allowed to enter.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker? 

According to the United Nations, there are nearly 80 million people currently displaced from their homes due to persecution, conflict, and human rights violations. Of those, 26 million have refugee status. Other groups include asylum seekers and individuals who have been displaced inside their home country.

The terms refugee and asylee are legal status’ that describe a person who has been forced to leave their country because of persecution. 

When refugees come to the USA through the resettlement program, they have already fled to another country to seek asylum. Some refugees live in refugee camps and others in urban settings in this country of first asylum. Less than 1% of refugees are ever resettled in a third country like the USA. 

An asylum seeker is someone who has been forced to leave their home country for the same fears. They are coming to a safer place to seek protection – also known as asylum. If someone is an asylum seeker in this country, that means they have been able to make it to a U.S. border to ask for protection. 

If asylum seekers are given an opportunity to go to immigration court, they must go through a long process to prove that their asylum claim is true and meets the requirements of US law. This can take years. Once an asylum case is approved, the person will receive the legal status of asylee, with the same rights as a refugee.

Both processes of seeking humanitarian protection are protected under U.S. law. Even though it is legal to come to the US border to ask for asylum, right now the U.S. government is using a special health exception rule – called Title 42 – to stop asylum seekers from accessing this process. Because of this, currently only unaccompanied minors are able to access the asylum system and there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure that these children are cared for and reunited with loved ones quickly.

Refugees and asylees are important to USAHello

Although today USAHello is proud to serve immigrants of all backgrounds, we were originally founded as the Refugee Center Online. Many former refugees play vital roles in our board of directors and advisory councils. 

As an organization, we have been heartbroken to see the devastating impacts of the steps taken to destroy this country’s humanitarian protection programs. We are encouraged by President Biden’s most recent presidential determination that will begin to restore the program. We are hopeful to see further positive steps taken to protect asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, at our borders. 

We look forward to supporting refugees and asylum seekers coming to the USA. We are also here to help the organizations and volunteers around the country who welcome refugees and asylum seekers. They play a central role in helping our new neighbors adjust to life in the USA.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.