The number of refugees admitted to the United States has dropped to historic lows during Donald Trump’s presidency, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of State Department data. As a result, the U.S. is no longer the world’s top country for refugee admissions. It had previously led the world on this measure for decades, admitting more refugees each year than all other countries combined.
The decline in U.S. refugee admissions comes at a time when the number of refugees worldwide has reached the highest levels since World War II.
Here are key facts from our research about refugees entering the United States:
How the U.S. refugee resettlement program works
1Refugee admissions into the U.S. have declined substantially during Donald Trump’s presidency. Every fall, the U.S. president sets a refugee ceiling – the maximum number of refugees who may enter the country in a fiscal year. In fiscal 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015, to Sept. 30, 2016), the U.S. had a ceiling of 85,000 refugees and admitted nearly that many. The following year, about 53,700 refugees resettled in the U.S. – a figure that reflects a temporary freeze on refugee admissions that Trump ordered shortly after taking office. In fiscal 2018, Trump’s first full fiscal year in office, he set the nation’s refugee ceiling at 45,000, a new low at the time, and the U.S. ultimately admitted about 22,500. Trump set the refugee ceiling at 30,000 for the current fiscal year, and as of Aug. 31 the U.S. had admitted about 28,100. Trump is reportedly considering a further reduction in the refugee cap for fiscal 2020.
Overall, the U.S. has admitted about 74,200 refugees so far under the Trump administration (Jan. 20, 2017, to Aug. 31, 2019). By comparison, the U.S. admitted nearly 85,000 refugees in fiscal 2016 alone, the last full fiscal year of the Obama administration.
2Historically, the total number of refugees coming to the U.S. has fluctuated with global events and U.S. priorities. From fiscal years 1990 to 1995, an average of about 116,000 refugees arrived in the U.S. each year, with many coming from the former Soviet Union. However, refugee admissions dropped off to roughly 27,100 in 2002 after admissions were largely suspended for three months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and then started rising again. From fiscal 2008 to 2017, an average of about 67,100 refugees arrived each year. Half or more of refugees during this time came from Asia, with many from Iraq and Burma (Myanmar). (Iraq is counted as a part of Asia in this data source.) Since fiscal 1980, 55% of refugees have come from Asia, a far higher share than from Europe (27%), Africa (12%) or Latin America (4%).
3So far in fiscal 2019, refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have outnumbered those from other countries. D.R. Congo has accounted for about 12,500 refugees, followed by Burma (Myanmar) with 4,700, then Ukraine (3,800), Eritrea (1,700) and Afghanistan (1,000). The picture looks different over the longer term. Since fiscal 2002 (Oct. 1, 2001, to Aug. 31, 2019), the most refugees have come from Burma (about 177,500), Iraq (144,300) and Somalia (104,000).
4The U.S. has admitted far more Christian refugees than Muslim refugees since fiscal 2017. Christians have accounted for 74% of refugees admitted to the U.S. so far in fiscal 2019. The U.S. admitted about 22,300 Christians through Aug. 31, compared with about 4,600 Muslims and smaller shares of other groups.
This pattern marks a sharp reversal from recent years. In fiscal 2016, the number of Muslim refugees reached a historic high. The 38,900 Muslim refugees resettled that year narrowly outpaced Christian refugee admissions (about 37,500), accounting for 46% of the year’s refugees, the highest share since fiscal 2006.
Since fiscal 2002 (Oct. 1, 2001, to Aug. 31, 2019), the U.S. has admitted about 463,200 Christian refugees and about 310,300 Muslim refugees.
5Texas, New York, Washington and California have resettled roughly a quarter of all refugees so far in fiscal 2019. Together, these states have taken in nearly 7,500 refugees. Other states that have received at least 1,000 refugees include Kentucky, Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Michigan. By contrast, Mississippi, the District of Columbia, Delaware and West Virginia have each resettled fewer than 10 refugees. Hawaii and Wyoming have taken in no refugees so far this fiscal year.
Since fiscal 2002, California has resettled the most refugees (about 108,000), followed by Texas (88,200), New York (58,400) and Florida (48,600).
6Americans have been divided in recent years over whether the U.S. should accept refugees, with large differences by political party affiliation. In a May 2018 survey, for example, about half of Americans (51%) said the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while 43% said it does not. Around three-quarters Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (74%) said the U.S. has this responsibility, compared with 22% of Republicans and Republican leaners. For much of the 20th century, U.S. public opinion polls showed fairly consistent disapproval of admitting large numbers of foreigners fleeing war and oppression, regardless of official government policy.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published on Jan. 27, 2017, and co-authored by Jynnah Radford, a former research assistant at Pew Research Center.