The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden would sign an executive order to dramatically increase refugee admissions to the US for the first fiscal year of the Biden administration, marking a clear departure from the Trump administration’s refugee policies.
The new executive order is expected to broadly reform current US refugee policy. Among the announced provisions is an ending of Trump-era policies that limited refugee resettlement and required excessive vetting of applicants; a stated intention to improve the US Refugee Admissions Program’s (USRAP) efficacy, integrity, security, and transparency; an expansion of refugee adjudication capacity; an enhancement of access for vulnerable refugees, including women, children, and individuals at risk of persecution because of their gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation; and a review of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqis and Syrians, to consider whether to pursue legislation for an SIV program for individuals who have served the US in conflict areas. The order additionally notes the intention to propose a raise in refugee admission numbers to 125,000, following appropriate consultation with Congress.
These changes would mark a substantial increase in refugee numbers from the Trump administration, which made heightened scrutiny of refugee admissions an executive priority. Soon after taking office, Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order which, among other provisions, reduced the number of refugees allowed annual entry into the US to a maximum of 50,000, with full bans on the entry of refugees from Syria. An additional executive action that allowed state and local governments to reject refugee settlement in their jurisdictions was recently blocked by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Following such changes, an October State Department report to Congress indicated an intention to allow only 15,000 refugees to be resettled in the US in fiscal year 2021, out of a claimant pool of more than 300,000. Such policies reduced the number of admitted refugees to a fraction of their pre-Trump totals.
It is expected that the Biden administration will continue to champion policies that reform the US refugee system, as Biden has repeatedly touted a more open immigration policy as a legislative priority. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there were nearly 80 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2019.