Key Facts about Refugees to the U.S.

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An executive order signed Jan. 27 by President Donald Trump suspends refugee admissions for 120 days while security procedures are reviewed, though the resettlement of persecuted religious minorities may continue during this time on a case-by-case basis. Under the plan, the maximum number of refugees allowed into the U.S. in fiscal 2017 will likely decline from 110,000 to 50,000. Separately, admission of Syrian refugees will be suspended pending a revision of security screening measures.

About 3 million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which created the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program and the current national standard for the screening and admission of refugees into the country.

This is not the first time U.S. refugee admissions have been stopped. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. largely suspended refugee resettlement for three months while security measures were examined. Today, the refugee admissions process can take up to 18 to 24 months, and includes a review of applications by the State Department and other federal agencies, in-person interviews, health screenings and, for many, cultural orientations.

Here are key facts from our research about refugees entering the United States:

Historically, the total number of refugees coming to the U.S. has fluctuated along with global events and U.S. priorities. From 1990 to 1995, an average of about 112,000 refugees arrived in the U.S. each year, many coming from the former Soviet Union. However, refugee admissions dropped off to fewer than 27,000 in 2002 following the terrorist attacks in 2001. This number has since trended up.

The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in the fiscal year ending in September 2016, the most in any year during the Obama administration. An additional 31,143 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. from Oct. 1 through Jan. 24, including more than 1,136 refugee admissions since Trump became president on Jan. 20. Though refugee admissions would drastically drop under Trump’s proposal, the U.S. had been on pace to reach the Obama administration’s goal of admitting 110,000 refugees in fiscal 2017, which would have been the highest number since 1994.

In fiscal 2016, the highest number of refugees from any nation came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congo accounted for 16,370 refugees followed by Syria (12,587), Burma (aka Myanmar, with 12,347), Iraq (9,880) and Somalia (9,020). Over the past decade, the largest numbers of refugees have come from Burma (159,692) and Iraq (135,643).

Nearly 39,000 Muslim refugees entered the U.S. in fiscal 2016, the highest number on record, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. Muslims made up nearly half (46%) of refugee admissions, a higher share than for Christians, who accounted for 44% of refugees admitted. Muslims exceeded Christians on this measure for the first time since 2006, when a large number of Somali refugees entered the U.S. From fiscal years 2002 to 2016, the U.S. admitted 399,677 Christian refugees and 279,339 Muslim refugees, meaning that 46% of all refugees who have entered the U.S. during this time have been Christian while 32% have been Muslim.

California, Texas and New York resettled nearly a quarter of all refugees in fiscal 2016, together taking 20,738 refugees. Other states that received at least 3,000 refugees included Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Washington, Pennsylvania and Illinois. By contrast, Arkansas, the District of Columbia and Wyoming each resettled fewer than 10 refugees. Delaware and Hawaii took in no refugees.

The U.S. public has seldom approved of accepting large numbers of refugees. In October 2016, 54% of registered voters said the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria, while 41% said it does. There was a wide partisan gap on this measure, with 87% of Trump supporters saying the U.S. doesn’t have a responsibility to accept Syrians, compared with only 27% of Clinton supporters who said the same. U.S. public opinion polls from previous decades show Americans have largely opposed admitting large numbers of refugees from countries where people are fleeing war and oppression.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on Jan. 27, 2017. 

ABOUT PEW RESEARCH: Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research,media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of  The Pew Charitable Trusts

Reprinted with permission