For the first time, USA takes in fewer refugees than other nations

July 9, 2018

The number of refugees resettled in the United States decreased more than in any other country in 2017, according to a Pew Research Center analysis released on July 5 of new data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This represents the first time in over 30 years—since the adoption in August 1980 of the U.S. Refugee Actthat America has taken in fewer refugees than the rest of the world.

Historically, Pew noted, the United States has led the world in refugee resettlement. In fact, since 1980, the U.S. has taken in 3 million of the more than 4 million refugees resettled worldwide.

However, in 2017, the U.S. resettled 33,000 refugees—the country’s lowest total since the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and a steep drop from 2016, when it resettled about 97,000. Non-U.S. countries resettled more than twice as many refugees as the U.S. in 2017—69,000—even though refugee resettlement in these nations was down from 92,000 in 2016.

Previously, the closest the rest of the world had come to surpassing the U.S. on this measure was 2003, when the U.S. resettled about 28,000 refugees and the rest of the world resettled about 27,000.

Despite a sharp single-year decline in refugee resettlement, the U.S. still resettled more refugees (33,000) than any other one country. Following the U.S. were Canada (27,000), Australia (15,000) and the United Kingdom (6,000). Sweden, Germany, Norway and France each resettled about 3,000 refugees. Per capita, Canada led the world by resettling 725 refugees per one million residents, followed by Australia (618) and Norway (528). The U.S. resettled 102 refugees per one million U.S. residents.

Overall, the world resettled 103,000 refugees in 2017, down from 189,000 in 2016. The broad-based decline included decreases in other leading countries in refugee resettlement, such as Canada and Australia, although the drops in these countries were more modest than those in the U.S.

Refugee resettlement involves a different group of migrants than those seeking asylum by entering Europe via the Mediterranean, coming to Canada via the United States, and crossing into the U.S. at its southern border. Asylum seekers migrate and cross a border without having received prior legal permission to enter their destination country, and then apply for asylum. Resettled refugees, by contrast, don’t enter their destination country until they have legal permission to do so, because they apply for refugee status while in another country. The refugee approval process can take several months or years, while destination countries complete security checks on prospective refugees.

The decline in refugee resettlement comes as the global refugee population increased by 2.75 million, and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017, according to UNHCR. This exceeds the high in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What’s more, U.S. refugee resettlement is on pace to remain at historically low levels in 2018. The Trump administration lowered the refugee ceiling for fiscal 2018 to 45,000 refugees, according to a report by NPR– the lowest cap since the Refugee Act was adopted by passed, according to U.S. State Department data. The number of Muslim refugees admitted to the nation has dropped more than other religious groups, Pew said.

Research contact: info@pewresearch.org

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