The Biden administration has signalled plans to double the United States’s refugee admissions cap for the next fiscal year, reaffirming a commitment to bolster a resettlement programme that was gutted by former President Donald Trump.
The Department of State announced on Monday that the administration sent a report to Congress recommending that the limit be raised from 62,500 to 125,000 in the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2021.
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“With the world facing unprecedented global displacement and humanitarian needs, the United States is committed to leading efforts to provide protection and promote durable solutions to humanitarian crises, to include providing resettlement for the most vulnerable,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The move comes as Washington is planning to resettle thousands of Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover last month. With as many 40,000 Afghans already brought to the US under different statuses, it is unclear how many will formally be admitted under the refugee system.
President Joe Biden faced criticism earlier this year after he delayed a promise to raise the 2021 admissions cap from a historic low of 15,000 set by his predecessor, Trump. But in May the Biden administration raised the limit to 62,500.
Still, the US is projected to resettle 12,500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year, according to the Department of State – partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When raising the 2021 cap, Biden acknowledged that it would be difficult to resettle the maximum number of people that it allows. He also dampened expectations for the next fiscal year, saying it “will still be hard to hit” the 125,000 limit.
“We might not make it the first year,” Biden said in a statement in May. “But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries.”
The president sets the refugee cap, but Congress is in charge of allocating the budget that includes resources for the resettlement programme. On Monday, the State Department said it would consult with lawmakers about the proposed refugee cap.
‘Hope for refugees’
Senator Dick Durbin, a senior Democrat, applauded the move.
“While I’m disappointed in the projected number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year, I acknowledge the challenges the Biden Administration inherited with the US Refugee Admissions Program due to the anti-immigrant actions of the previous Administration,” Durbin wrote on Twitter.
“Facing the greatest refugee crisis in our time, I know the Biden Administration is working to restore the United States’ longstanding bipartisan tradition of providing safety to the world’s most vulnerable refugees – including Afghan refugees.”
Church World Service (CWS), an NGO that helps with refugee resettlement, also lauded the US administration’s decision.
“Today we celebrate a return to moral leadership and our nation’s commitment to welcome and generosity,” Erol Kekic, senior vice president at CWS, said in a statement. “At long last there is hope for refugees in search of safety, including Afghans who are in imminent danger and thousands of families waiting to be reunited.”
Some advocacy groups, including Oxfam and HIAS had pushed for raising the cap to 200,000 to accommodate the Afghanistan crisis. On Monday, HIAS called on the administration and Congress to rebuild and fully fund the US refugee resettlement programme.
“We cannot forget that this includes making sure that newly arriving Afghans must also have access to the same services as refugees admitted through the resettlement program,” Naomi Steinberg, HIAS vice president for policy and advocacy, said in a statement.
“They must also be able to become legal permanent residents, and ultimately US citizens, just as those admitted as refugees are able to do.”