Refugee Trends: Numbers Admitted Low Since 9/11

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 11, 2008 1 min read

It may not be evident, if you live in a community that is a popular location for refugee resettlement, but compared with the 1980s and 1990s, the United States has not received a lot of refugees in the first decade of the 21st century. Admission rates to the United States decreased after stricter security measures were put in place in 2002, in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to Michael Fix, the vice president and director of studies at the Migration Policy Institute.

I asked Mr. Fix to analyze patterns in the numbers of refugees admitted each year since 1975, after I read a generalization about refugee resettlement over at Colorin Colorado. Kristina Robertson wrote in a primer on how to support refugees in classrooms of English-language learners that “since the 1990s, the United States has experienced another dramatic increase in refugee resettlement, and it has caused some strain in locations where people are not used to meeting the needs of such a diverse population.”

There was a spike in the number of refugees received by the United States in the first half of the 1990s, but those higher levels of yearly admissions didn’t hold true for the rest of the decade or in recent years.

The numbers of refugees received annually as reported by the U.S. Department of State show that from 1989 to 1994, the United States admitted more than 100,000 refugees each year. But the numbers decreased overall from 1994 to 2001 and then dropped dramatically to only 27,110 in 2002. The rate of admittance each year has climbed to 48,000 refugees in 2007. (You can find the statistics here. Click on the second to last link, “PRM admissions as of May 31, 2008.” Update: Colorin Colorado updated its article after I sent over this link.)

Mr. Fix explains spikes in the rates of refugee admissions from 1979-1981 and from 1989-1994 as follows:

The mid-1970s marked the end of fighting in Southeast Asia, and the admission of several thousand refugees. The increase in admissions from 1979-1981 was driven in part by passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, which ushered in a new system of refugee processing, doing away with a preferential category for those fleeing Communism or a Middle Eastern country. Also, in 1980, the Cuban government announced that Cubans would be allowed to leave and many of these "Marielitos" fled and made it to the safety of Florida's coast. The spike in 1989-1993 can be explained in part by the Lautenburg Amendment. Enacted in 1989, the amendment welcomed religious minority refugees from the former Soviet Union. In 1992, the United States began admitting refugees from Bosnia.

The Cultural Orientation Resource Center of the Center for Applied Linguistics provides information about where refugees are arriving from who have been admitted to the United States this year.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.