August 16, 2016

Nearly half of refugees entering the U.S. this year are Muslim

The U.S. has received 28,957 Muslim refugees so far in fiscal year 2016, or nearly half (46%) of the more than 63,000 refugees who have entered the country since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. That means that already this year the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.

Christians are the second-largest group of refugees to the U.S. so far this fiscal year; 27,556 Christian refugees have entered the country, nearly as many as the number of Muslim refugees. A slightly lower share of 2016’s refugees were Christian (44%) than Muslim, the first time that has happened since fiscal 2006, when a large number of Somali refugees entered the U.S.

People seeking to enter the U.S. as refugees are processed overseas. As part of the process, they are asked a series of questions, including their religious affiliation. When their applications are approved, refugees travel to the U.S. to be resettled by nonprofit groups associated with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Refugees to the U.S. are different from asylum seekers, who claim asylum after already being in the U.S. or crossing into the U.S. via an airport or land border.

Refugees make up a small percentage (about one-in-ten) of the roughly 1 million immigrants granted lawful permanent residency in the U.S. each year. Because the U.S. government does not keep track of the religion of new legal immigrants, it is not possible to say what share of all recent immigrants are Muslim. A 2013 Center report, however, estimated that as of 2012, roughly six-in-ten new legal immigrants were Christian, compared with one-in-ten who were Muslim.

Just two countries – Syria (8,511) and Somalia (7,234) – were the source of more than half of this year’s Muslim refugees. The rest are from Iraq (6,071), Burma (Myanmar) (2,554), Afghanistan (1,948) and other countries (2,639).

Overall, a far larger total number of Christian refugees than Muslim refugees have entered the U.S. since fiscal 2002, the first year for which data on self-reported religious affiliations are publicly available. During the past 15 years, the U.S. has admitted 389,712 Christian refugees and 269,395 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.

This year, about 6,552 refugees (10%) are members of faiths other than Islam or Christianity. More than 2,500 belong to Buddhist traditions while about another 1,500 are Hindu. A much lower number of refugees in 2016 are atheists or claim no religious affiliation (338 refugees overall, or 1% of all refugees this year).

As of mid-August, the U.S. has received more than 63,000 refugees, about 22,000 short of the 85,000 ceiling set by the Obama administration at the beginning of fiscal 2016. Burma (Myanmar) (10,464 as of mid-August), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (10,417), Syria (8,569) and Iraq (7,479) are the top origin countries of refugees arriving thus far in 2016. Together, refugees from these four nations represent more than half (58%) of all refugees admitted to the U.S. this fiscal year.

The administration set the goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. this year. As of the middle of August, the administration is about 86% of the way toward its goal. Among the 8,569 Syrian refugees received, 99% are Muslim and less than 1% are Christian. As a point of comparison, Pew Research Center estimated Syria’s religious composition to be 93% Muslim and 5% Christian in 2010.

Note: This post has been updated to clarify that fiscal 2002 is the earliest year for which self-reported religious affiliation data for refugees are publicly available.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Christians and Christianity, Middle East and North Africa, Migration, Muslims and Islam, Religious Affiliation

  1. Photo of Phillip Connor

    is a research associate focusing on demography and migration studies at Pew Research Center.

21 Comments

  1. Anonymous1 month ago

    A 2013 Center report, however, estimated that as of 2012, roughly six-in-ten new legal immigrants were Christian, compared with one-in-ten who were Muslim.
    but the headline reads; Nearly half of refugees entering the U.S. this year are Muslim
    i assume many readers like myself replace “refugees” with the word “immigrant” and read the article because of that false assumption. lumping all immigration together as a threat has been one of donald j.’s most effective campaign themes.
    the fact that southern border illegal immigration is at net zero with illegal hispanics returning to their home countries is adamantly denied by donald j. and the right wing propaganda machine. they also try to make legal immigration of one million people per year it seem like an invasion of hordes of potential terrorists while the number of highly vetted refugees is a tiny fraction of all immigration.
    in other words the headline is clickbait and undermines the stories factual content.

  2. Anonymous1 month ago

    “As part of the process, they are asked a series of questions, including their religious affiliation. ” as we saw with San Bernadino case, there is zero follow up, the wife had used a nonexistent address.

  3. Steve Coe1 month ago

    It would be very interesting to also know how long refugees of various faith traditions had to wait from the time their application was submitted until refugee status was approved by the US.

  4. Oliver Clozoff1 month ago

    I have a hard time believing these numbers for Christian refugees. Where are they coming from? The article does not say. It’s for sure they’re NOT coming from Iraq or Syria.

    1. Lisa Jennings1 month ago

      There are christians that live in the middle east.

      1. Anonymous1 month ago

        That is not true. Only 11% are Christians.

        1. Anonymous1 month ago

          11% of the population of Syria is over 2 million people. Not to mention many Christian refugees also come Sub-Saharan Africa, which has a sizable Christian population.

  5. Anonymous1 month ago

    Please clarify use of term ‘non-profit’ . This sounds like private charity instead of the government-reimbursed organizations many taxpayers don’t realize they are supporting. Thank you

    1. Marijan Favetti1 month ago

      Perhaps if you bothered to do some research, specifically to see who the Office of Refugee Resettlement is partnering with you’d see that they are:
      Church World Service (CWS)Visit disclaimer page
      • Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)Visit disclaimer page
      • Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM)Visit disclaimer page
      • Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)Visit disclaimer page
      • International Rescue Committee (IRC)Visit disclaimer page
      • US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)Visit disclaimer page
      • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS)Visit disclaimer page
      • United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)Visit disclaimer page
      • World Relief Corporation (WR

  6. Anonymous1 month ago

    The immigrant numbers are much higher than that. Maybe you were referring to weekly or at best bi weekly numbers

    1. Will Gill1 month ago

      Refugee does not include illegal immigration numbers, Illegal immigration numbers are much higher than all the refugee numbers combined.

  7. Anonymous1 month ago

    Lop-sided immigration, makes no sense. Vetting inadequate.

  8. Tim Crowley1 month ago

    No real surprise. Given the areas where there is strife that causes refugees, this is to be expected.

  9. Ara Yilancioglu1 month ago

    Is it a coincidence you left the most significant fact for the last paragraph of your article? In a predominantly muslim country like Syria, 99% to be close to exact, the USA has “resettled less than 1%” of the Christians.

    In a muslim country where the islamic religion is the single most powerful driving force behind every single day of life in that country, why is the USA resettling LESS THEN 1% of the Christians?

    In a 99% predominately islamic country like Syria where it’s common knowledge that Christians heads are being chopped off for not converting to Islam, in the country where the non-islamists are persecuted because they don’t worship Allah, why in the world is the USA helping LESS THAN 1% of the Christians in Syria?

    President Obama and his administration’s policies do nothing to help the REAL refugees in these chaotic, primarily islamic countries. If the Shias have religious or cultural differences with the Sunnis, LET THEM. If the Kurds have religious or cultural difference with the Shias, LET THEM! But in GOD’S name why are we extracting the same intolerant people and importing them into the USA? Those same intolerant muslims who hate homosexuals, who demean women, and who don’t assimilate to western cultures are the same toxic people we are IMPORTING into the USA!

    The CHRISTIANS are the real refugees and the real asylum seekers and the real victims being slaughtered every day. The Christians are the tolerant people who don’t throw homosexuals off buildings. The Christians are the people who most directly associate with ‘western’ cultures and traditions!

    The practices of the Obama administration of assisting into the USA the same people who are unable to assimilate to the various sects of their OWN islamic religions in their own islamic countries. The Christians in these islamic countries are having their necks slit open, forced to move to mountaintops and starve, and have their churches razed and burned to the ground. Do we just ignore the news broadcasts from these countries?

    One would think President Obama would learn from the grave mistakes of England and Europe. That is, if President Obama really means to do what is right for the USA.

    1. Rich Rose1 month ago

      Ara…well stated!

  10. Anonymous1 month ago

    So, do any of them have any skills that will contribute to America?

  11. Jim Kocsis1 month ago

    This article is extremely misleading and seeks to bury the most relevant information in the last paragraph. While Syria has a civil war going on, no group has suffered as much as Syria’s Christians, yet 99% of those we are admitting to the U.S. are Muslim?? Beyond the perils of the war itself, Christians have been specifically targeted by ISIS and therefore should be our priority, to say nothing of the fact that they are far more likely to assimilate into U.S.society successfully. The fact that Christians compromise a much smaller percentage of the Syrian population as compared to Muslims does not make admitting them as the priority any less valid, quite to the contrary, their position as a small persecuted minority within Syrian society makes their claims for asylum even more valid.

  12. Jane Cook1 month ago

    Why would we be taking in Burmese refugees? Burma has never been better. Why are we taking in economic refugees from Congo? They belong to Belgium. Send them there.
    Syrians need to go to the UAE or Saudi. Why us?

    1. Anonymous1 month ago

      I can’t say much about Congo. But regarding Burma, they’re going through a political strife, while regarding Syria, the rich Gulf states are not letting in a single refugee for some very odd reason. The rest of the Muslim countries are either too far, already have a large number of immigrants (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) or are having their own issues. That’s exactly why Europe and the US are the main destinations. Well, God knows for how long. :/

    2. Mara Ranian1 month ago

      I agree with you!

    3. Steve Coe1 month ago

      Jane, you are apparently unaware of the real situation in Burma. There have indeed been some positive changes, and most citizens have a better life now than they did before 2010. However, the Burma army continues to attack their own citizens of ethnic minority groups, most of whom are Christian. The Muslim Rohinga people also continue to live in squalor. Even though they have had the opportunity to elect 75% of their parliament (the remaining 25% are active military officers appointed by the army), the elected government is still constitutionally subordinate to a still-brutal military. It puzzles me that the vast majority of of western media, who have been informed otherwise, report as though Burma is now a wonderful democracy. It is not that (yet). I personally just returned from a four week trip there two days ago, so my comments are current.