January 30, 2017

Key facts about refugees to the U.S.

Syrian refugees take notes during their Vocational ESL class at the International Rescue Committee center in San Diego on Aug. 31, 2016. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees take notes during their vocational ESL class at the International Rescue Committee center in San Diego on Aug. 31, 2016. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

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:

1Historically, 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, with 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.

2The 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.

3In 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).

4Nearly 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.

5California, 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.

6The 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. 

Topics: Immigration, U.S. Political Parties, Domestic Affairs and Policy, Immigration Attitudes, Immigration Trends, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Migration

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Jynnah Radford

    is a research assistant focusing on global migration at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous7 months ago

    Believe or not, we know that most of “so-called Congolese Refugees” are actually Rwandese from RWANDA. They will all tell you that they are from Rutshuru or Mulenge, because these are the regions that were infiltrated by them. The Congolese citizenship is inherited from blood and as a rule in the East, you have to proof from which family you come from. And we know each other. You can not be from nowhere. Let’s be clear, if the USA want to confront us, they can ask real Congolese. When people take advantage of the instability of the Congo to come in the US as a refugee is unfair.

  2. Kevin Bagwell7 months ago

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree with your assessment ” Generally the American Public hasn’t welcomed Refugees”. Try comparing Russia, England, China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia or any other country in the middle east. If you can compare those countries and the US isn’t the leader in accepting I will apologize. But I’m betting we lead all of them and about 97% of all other countries. For instance do a sample of Germany right now. I was willing to accept all but one in your time line but only because I was just three years old at the time of the Hungarian refugee settlement.

    The biggest issue today is mass media! More issues evolve and just one story can effect the masses. This was a major factor the last few years with several media’s painting all Muslims the same way as ISIS is seen. Sadly media rarely retracts anything and if they do no one hears it. Too many people I have spoken with understands what Shiite or Sunni are nor do they know who aligns with ISIS.

    I question a few other things in the story because I used your service to view all religions coming from Syria, Iraq and Iran. I would have to go back to my post on facebook six months ago but I believe total number of Christians from the three aforementioned countries amount to less than 10. There were less than 50 Sunni and less than 10 Yazidi brought in again from the aforementioned countries. I believe the one country where you may have seen more Christians was the Burmese which did account for the highest number last year!

    I would try to go into detail about issues with refugees and public perception but I would hate write a book. Let’s just say most I have spoken to are not against refugees they are against forcing people to leave their land they have lived on all their lives because we simply couldn’t force one man in the north to give up his kingdom. The second is why do we allow a known terrorist state to constantly train terrorist and sponsor terrorism across the globe.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      The fact that ‘generally the American public hasn’t welcomed refugees’ is not a comparative statement v other countries. It’s based on research in the US asking the US public at different times about their attitude to accepting refugees.

    2. Kitty Mitchell Burgh7 months ago

      Kevin, he is not saying that America has not welcomed refugees, he is saying that the American public has not been in favor of admitting large numbers of refugees over the years. The American public generally doesn’t have a lot of say in these matters – the government just does it. He is saying this based on polls that have been taken over the years regarding how people feel about allowing large numbers of refugees into the country.

      So you are not arguing with his “assessment,” you are arguing with the results of polls that were taken decades ago.

    3. Anonymous7 months ago

      In 2016, the United States accepted 2,339 Christian refugees from Iran, 1,966 Christian refugees from Iraq, 125 Christian refugees from Syira, as well as 567 Yazidi refugees from that country.

      Muslims make up only 10% of Iranian refugees (despite being a 99% Muslim country); Christians make up about 56% and the remaining 34% are of other religions, primarily Baha’i.

      17% of Iraqi refugees are Christian (compared to 0.8% of the Iraqi population), 77% are Muslim, and the other 6% are mostly Yazidi (2% of the population).

      98% of Syrian refugees were Sunni Muslim in 2016. However, very few Christians in Syria have applied for refugee status (factcheck.org/2017/01/christian-…); it is not clear why that is happening.

      In total, 21% of refugees accepted from those three countries are Christian.

      Data on the number of refugees resettled in the United States and their religions and nations of origin is easily available online. (ireports.wrapsnet.org/Interactiv…)

      1. Anonymous6 months ago

        So you are telling me it is Sunni Muslims, the sect most radical and the one ISIS is part of who are coming to the US. Do you really think they will become part of the US and follow it’s laws or keep their own? I am concerned hearing it is this sect who are most of the refugees entering.

    4. Anonymous7 months ago

      the biggest issue right now is federal judges and other citizens trying to stop our President from doing what he thinks is best to protect the U.S. citizens, you know the citizens that must above all others be his main concern.

      1. Anonymous6 months ago

        President Trump could have gone about the ban, by allowing a period where those that already had visas to come in. They have to be vetted to get a visa. The big problem in New Mexico was, we have colleges, where students go on vacations during Winter break. Just so happened we had students vacationing in some of the places President Trump banned. These students couldn’t get back to start the second semester, so lost some of their funding.

  3. Noel Jensen7 months ago

    Why aren’t the undocumented aliens in the US counted as refugees? I estimate that nearly 1/2 of the world’s refugees live in the US already, but we don’t get credit for it because of a technicality.

    1. KateC Wilson7 months ago

      “Refugee” is an official status designated International Law, defined in conventions (the documents) and other vehicles, measured by statistics, and supervised by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) (except Palestinians, who have their own wing UNRWA), along with other bodies. The notion that “50% live in the US” would dissipate with a glance at those stats. Just the number of Syrians alone, those who fled to Jordan & Lebanon, shows how relatively small is the trickle into the USA. You might be conflating refugee with immigrant, and maybe also with migrant & asylum seeker.

  4. Anonymous7 months ago

    84,995 refugees were allowed entry to the USA in FY2016. Do you know how many total applications were received in the same period? Do you know how many applications were denied? I’m looking for a statistics on the vetting process and success/failure rates. Thanks if you can answer or point me to an official source. No luck so far with DOS, DHS, etc.

  5. Carole F.7 months ago

    As the article pointed out, the numbers of refugees and their religion is found at the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) database. They are the processing center for the State Department.

    If you look under REPORTS—>INTERACTIVE REPORTING—>ARRIVALS BY NATIONALITY and RELIGION you can see the numbers by year/s and sort by nationality or religion. Or you can just go here: ireports.wrapsnet.org

  6. Anonymous7 months ago

    what is the average age of female refugees?

  7. Anonymous7 months ago

    Can I get a break down the number of Christian refugees from Syria out of the total Christian refugees in 2016? Thank you.

  8. Anonymous7 months ago

    Don’t tell me there has been a roughly equal number of Christian refugees accepted. The question is how many Christian refugees have been accepted from Islamic countries that cause them to seek refuge. I am sure the number is less than .01%.

    1. Anonymous6 months ago

      It depends on the country. More than 56% of Iranian refugees are Christians, about 10% of Iraqi refugees are, and maybe 2% of Syrian refugees. It depends on who’s applying.

  9. Anonymous7 months ago

    Can anyone direct me to a good source that would tell me how many of the refugees that the US has accepted in the last year or two have committed any type of crime? Not just terrorism…(robbery, aggrivated assult, etc.) Also can anyone clarify what assistance is given to refugees once they are here? Ex: tax exempt status, financial assistance, etc…. and for how long do they benefit from these cares?? Just trying to find reliable sources in these areas! Thanks in advance!

    1. ageofmech7 months ago

      I believe crime statistics would be very difficult to find (as different states and municipalities have different laws governing disclosure of that information and there is no real consolidation of it). As for assistance I can speak to that.

      “Refugees traveling to the United States are issued loans by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to pay for the costs of their transportation from overseas to the U.S. resettlement sites and for various medical screening costs. The funds to cover the transportation are provided to IOM by the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugees.” -http://www.usccb.org/

      These loans are interest free and begin repayment within 6 months of being issued. Now, these loans are typically for $1,200 per refugee (if the refugee is being relocated alone), or $2,500 for the family. The loans are typically repaid in full in 5 years (around 70%), with the remainder typically being paid off in full in under a decade. Specifically, “For $645 million in loans provided to refugees over the last ten years, $137 million (or 21 percent) is currently in default status.” That was as of October 2015, according to Director Larry Bartlett at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

      Aside from that, very little assistance is offered by the government after initial relocation. Although, there are many large charities which offer various types of aid (e.g., In partnership with its affiliates, the United States Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services department resettles approximately 30% of the refugees that arrive in the US each year. Additionally, see the work of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Inc. or World Relief).

      In the end, most studies I’ve seen show that the refugees over the last 2 decades have had a net positive impact on the economy. It is very difficult to gauge that holistically (especially because it depends on what you consider a positive impact), but in terms of simple dollars added to the economy, they have been a net positive (e.g., hias.org/sites/default/files/cle…).

      I hope that answers the second part of your question reasonably well.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        I think you are forgetting all the federal grants that are provided to these so called nonprofilt agencies. Make no mistake resettlement is big business and has many muslim groups rallying behind it. Just look at our somali refugees settled in maine. A large fed grant was just made to try to address domestic violence in this sharia somali settlement. Also they have to be monitored by the FBI because 60 young muslim men have tried to leave the country to go join isis. If these refugees get so little in entitlements why do all the refugees voluntarily pass through countries that don’t have the best entitlements to the countries that give them everything. Just use common sense. Reports of dissatisfied refugees is rampant. We don’t need a white wash, just what is actually reality.

    2. Anonymous7 months ago

      I believe the XO has requested these numbers be compiled. It also asks for honor killings and gender based violence stats. Not sure true numbers can be achieved as it’s rumored some crimes were classified as workplace violence or don’t tie naturalized citizens as stemming from the foreign country of origin or radicalized Americans or radicalized children of foreign naturalized refugee parents. See where it could get sticky? I think you’ll find the answers to your financial Qs on the USCIS website but it’s different depending on how they enter…i.e. for USRAP the 2013 update regarding Syrian and Iraqis is more helpful than explanations in past years. The IOM site and Refugee Resettlement Program sites could also fill in some of the blanks.

    3. Anonymous7 months ago

      We were refugees and we were not given anything, other than a bag of used, donated clothes from the Catholic Diocese when we resettled in the U.S. We had to pay for our own airfares and other costs to various US agencies to get here. We were not given any special treatments as you have questioned. With that said, we were able to qualify for our state’s welfare system (we received about $250 per month for two people, back in 1983) because we couldn’t speak English and couldn’t find a job right away. We went off welfare within 3 months of settling here when one of us found a job.

      Also it is not easy to come to the US as a refugee. There is an intensive background check that every person goes through, even kids, that can take 1 to 3 years to complete. We know several people who comitted suicide in the refugee camp because they didn’t qualify for refugee status and were denied entry. They were so afraid of returning home that they ended their lives and that of their children.

      I hope this gives you a little more insight on refugees. One last thing, please don’t confuse immigrants with refugees. These are completely different categories of people. Refugees face persecution if they remain in their home countries. Where as, immigrants don’t — they come to the US for better economic opportunities.

    4. Anonymous7 months ago

      The international institute of St.Louis can answer all but the non law abiding questions, they help many people all the time

    5. Anonymous7 months ago

      I’m looking also, have you found anything??

    6. Anonymous7 months ago

      I would suggest visiting a resettlement agency. There is almost one in every state. They have all the information. In many cases the support is very slim, maybe Just enough for them to barley survive. In some cases it’s only for 3 months. Support is linked to learning English daily and attending other programs. There is also staff who is thier sole job is to help them get jobs. Most of the jobs are cleaning or grocery stores.

  10. Yagneswar Deb7 months ago

    The Problem with migration is complex one.India is going to pass a bill relating the issue of immigrants facing religious prosecution from Pak and B’Desh.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Millions of Bangladeshi have entered India because of floods or droughts or political / religious reasons. There should be global mechanism to manage and distributed and settle refugees worldwide.

  11. Anonymous7 months ago

    You are the only site that claims we admitted large amounts of christian refugees where as every one else states an unmentionable number like 9 or whatever. Where did you get this info as I must say I can’t find support for it anywhere so I have to fear it is propaganda and fake news. Who supports your agency. The muslim brotherhood????

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      I agree with this persons facts that he is stating. This is the first time I’ve heard this over blown number of Christian refugees being accepted under obamas watch. If that were the case there would be no need for the Nazarene fund.

    2. Anonymous7 months ago

      If you are only looking at Syrian percentages then yes. However, from Iraq, Christian refugees accepted are 15x greater than the percentage of their population. Also, there are many reasons why a Christian might not go through a Syrian refugee camp – which I am sure you would agree with. Looking across all countries, there is a significant percentage of Christian refugees brought in. It shows your bias when you think any site – especially Pew Research – is part of the “Muslim brotherhood” only because you disagree with it. It also shows the President is misleading when he makes it sound like the US is making it difficult only for Christian entry. The numbers don’t show that when you look at all countries – not just the ones you or he choose to look at to satisfy your bias.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        I would like to focus on syria, in terms of christian refugees as the UN was not accepting christian refugees applications. The christians and yazidis were not able to make application for refugee status and have, had to hide in land pockets in the mountains. Since these groups were subjected to extermination, every one should be assisted to get out of Syria, yet you give us a number of 9 because they are a minority in that country. It doesn’t hold water with me. Any group that is facing extermination should be given top priority regardless of their percent of the countries population. What if children were a minority in a country should only a very small fraction of them be granted refugee status because they might be a minority. Your arguement doesn’t hold water then does it?? Also a resettlement agency working with syria has said that they don’t take christians applications as they would be in danger for their life and limb if they were placed in muslim holding camps. That’s encouraging about the refugees we want the most.

    3. Anonymous7 months ago


      I also had doubts and hence I checked there source.United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) (wrapsnet.org)

      I can’t still figure out a way to get right report but I do see a lot of christians were admitted from all over the world (not necessarily only from the banned countries).

      Please check this link and see if you can download and analyze the data. This will take lot of time to download this in excel and then run some reports and to validate all the facts.


      For example Dem Rep of Congo has contributed close to 20k refugees to US.

      Dem. Rep. Congo 19,829
      Bahai 39
      Baptist 599
      Catholic 2,672
      Christian 5,173
      Jehovah Witness 590
      Mennonite 5
      Methodist 1,306
      Moslem 695
      No Religion 6
      Other Religion 71
      Pentecostalist 3,911
      Protestant 2,271
      Seventh Day Adventist 2,491

      You need to add up this data for all the counties contributing refugees and see if this is valid or not.

    4. Anonymous7 months ago

      The source of the information is quoted below the graph: U.S. State Department Refuge Processing Center. They have a website: wrapsnet.org/admissions-and-arri…

    5. Anonymous7 months ago

      Source for “everyone else”?

    6. Anonymous7 months ago

      The source is literally linked in the article…

  12. Anonymous7 months ago

    You are absolutely right. Our country has always wanted to control who actually came here, that is until the open borders policy of obama. Although obama wasn’t that keen about accepting muslim refugees until the last years of his term. But in the past this country has been opposed to letting in jews prior to ww2 and after. We turned away 100,000 jewish holocaust survivors after ww2. We even threatened ww2 fighter pilots, that if they went to israel to help the jewish state remain intact against the palestinians that they would lose their citizenship. Of course they went anyways. But going back to colonial times you will see a conscious effort to have nationalities come here who we approved of while trying to limit some people like southern italians, some irish here were considered to be stupid and uneducated. During the civil war, we put them in the union army as soon as they got off the boat. We have a whole history of actually being anti immigration against alot of people. That’s why I dont understand why liberals keep sayiing to limit refugees etc is so unamerican. We need to admit it, it is very american. It is who we are.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Sadly. As somewhat of a history buff I know you speak the truth. And it is sad. It should not have been and should not be that way.

    2. Anonymous7 months ago

      To stop allowing refugees is un-American. The not allow refugees who are Muslim while putting in a fast-track for Christians is un-American.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        You didn’t actually read his comments did you? Research it.

  13. Anonymous7 months ago

    This article is nice, but you don’t include info on WHY most Americans did not approve. Every circumstance is different. With the horrible flood of crimes from refugees and immigrants in Europe, is it any wonder many americans don’t just want us to let in every single person who requests it? The current situation is not a ban, and actually most ppl are not supporting an outright ban, but just allowing the vetting process to be strenghtened in order to keep americans safe.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Public opposition changed because the nature of American demographics changed. Stats on record will back that up. Look at the percentage of legal, illegal and refugee populations now residing in the country.

  14. Anonymous7 months ago

    Th key reason why people seem to have agreed with the allowing in albanians into the U.S (eventhough most would have been Muslim) was because the question said only “a few hundred”. Seems numbers matter.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      several hundred

  15. Anonymous7 months ago

    How many resettled refugees have committed crimes or have been arrested for being suspected of plotting terrorism?

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      Check out Germany and France. Also, Isis has deliberately stated they would abuse accepted refugees by sending their own as “refugees.” Obama isn’t stupid … nor is Trump for that matter. They both sought for minimized refugee access. If you are only just now complaining about it, it just means you literally have no real principles. Its either ok to do when Obama did it and thus is now ok, or it was not ok when Obama did it and this is currently not ok.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        You can’t compare the ban trump is implementing with what Obama did in 2011 and during his term. They are entirely different, especially they were implemented. To say that “if you are only just now complaining about it, it just means you literally have no real principles” is a huge generalization and falsehood because the topic is entirely debatable. Also Obama didn’t barf out public rhetoric to prioritize one religious group over another like Trump is doing now. In my opinion, Trump’s implementation is entirely too aggressive and even dangerous since ISIS’s most powerful influence stems from radicalizing nationals of Western nations.

        1. Anonymous7 months ago

          True, Obama didn’t “barf” it out, he eloquently proclaimed his rhetoric. Different delivery style but still rhetoric.

          Regarding religious affiliations, isn’t that what can force someone to be a “refugee” from their country? Why are you offended by that criteria for prioritization. My wife was a refugee for political and religious reasons, is that wrong?

      2. Anonymous7 months ago

        Germany’se official statement, via research through their agencies, is that the crime rate has not risen with the influx of refugees.

    2. Anonymous7 months ago

      If you want an example in the US check out the stabbing in Chicago.

    3. Anonymous7 months ago

      Hasn’t been a terrorist attack from a non-domestic individual in over five years

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        San Bernardino, the guy was an immigrant from Pakistan using a visa.

        1. Anonymous7 months ago

          Farook was an American-born U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent.

      2. Anonymous7 months ago

        Define non-domestic

  16. Anonymous7 months ago

    Where is your data from on numbers of Christian versus Muslim refugees? I don’t believe applicants are asked to self declare during processing, just like they aren’t for visa processing.

    1. Anonymous7 months ago

      When it was 10,801 Syrian refugees admitted to US there were 56 Christians. That’s 00.5% of persecuted group allowed to enter under Obama admin, pretty deplorable. As the number climbed over 12k the numbers were not released. The only number of Muslim, Christian or others are combined with other countries. Religious minorities seeking refuge in the US from Syria (Christians and others) should be given priority because Muslims should more easily be able to seek refuge in the neighboring countries to Syria.

    2. Anonymous7 months ago

      “I don’t believe” isn’t an argument. It’s equally as stupid (rhetorically) as saying “I don’t believe” in global warming – but also not proceeding to have anything to back the claim.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        Yes, please, more details. Otherwise we cannot ascertain what is fake and what is real. These comments are used to find the truth within the din of competing voices and emotion.

    3. Jens Manuel Krogstad7 months ago

      Hi there, we downloaded the data from the website of the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. A link to the webpage is provided in the text of our post.

      1. Anonymous7 months ago

        no figures on the linked page you mention.

        1. Anonymous6 months ago

          WRAPSnet has just updated their site. Try this link: wrapsnet.org/admissions-and-arri…