Administration Announces FY 2021 Refugee Ceiling
Each fiscal year, the President sets a refugee ceiling number. This is not a target or a goal, but rather an upper limit on how many applicants the State Department is willing to provide a green card to under the refugee program, which makes up a substantial part of our humanitarian admissions alongside the asylum process and the rarer humanitarian parole.
On October 1, the State Department announced the refugee ceiling for the 2021 fiscal year at 15,000. The department noted that they estimate there will be over 300,000 new refugee and asylum claims in the new fiscal year, with many of them coming from asylum claims at the southwest border. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent response limited the number of asylum claims made in recent months, but that will likely change. Already, news outlets recently reported of new migrant caravans gathering and making their way to the southwest border to claim asylum. Caravans such as these contributed to the summer 2019 humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border.
Since taking office, President Trump has consistently kept the refugee ceiling below levels set by his predecessors, and the FY 2021 level is the lowest ever since the refugee admissions program began in 1980. Under former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the United States resettled an average of about 81,000 refugees each year. President Trump set previous refugee ceilings at 45,000, 30,000, and 18,000 in FY 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively.
Despite the nominally low refugee ceiling, the United States continues to act as the global leader in refugee assistance. In 2019, the United States gave over $1.7 billion to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The next highest donor was the entire European Union, who gave just $473 million. So while the U.S. lowers its refugee ceiling, it continues to uphold its enormous funding commitments to guarantee aid and resources for the UNHCR.