The U.S. has a proud history of admitting refugees of special humanitarian concern into the country. Following the admission of over 250,000 displaced Europeans in the wake of World War II, the first refugee legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress was the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This legislation provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans.
Later laws provided for admission of persons fleeing Communist regimes from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Korea and China, and Cuba. Most of these waves of refugees were assisted by private ethnic and religious organizations in the U.S. which formed the basis for the public/private role of U.S. refugee resettlement today.
In 1975 the U.S. resettled hundreds of thousands of Indochinese refugees through an ad hoc Refugee Task Force with temporary funding.
This experience prompted Congress to pass the Refugee Act of 1980, which incorporated the United Nations definition of “refugee” and standardized the resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the U.S.
The Refugee Act provides the legal basis for today’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and is administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) of the Department of State in conjunction with the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and offices in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The 9 U.S. Refugee Resettlement Agencies help newly arrived refugees settle into local communities. These organizations include: Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services, and World Relief. These organizations are also known as Voluntary Agencies (volags) or Resettlement Agencies.
Each year, the President of the United States, after consulting with Congress and the appropriate agencies, determines the designated nationalities and processing priorities for refugee resettlement for the upcoming year. The President also sets annual ceilings on the total number of refugees who may enter the U.S. from each region of the world.
Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled over 3 million refugees, with annual admissions figures ranging from a high of 207,000 in 1980 to a low of 27,110 in 2002.