In the most recent fiscal year, the United States has taken on more Syrian refugees than in the past four before, even though there’s a focus on Ukraine. Washington appears poised to stick with its policy of increasing refugee admissions from around the world.
There has been growing concern in Jordan at the embassy in Amman that the focus on Ukraine among U.S. and European donors would undermine the needed help for 667,000 in the kingdom alone.
According to new reports from last summer, most were due to start seeing major cuts to their food stipends in the fall of this year.
The U.S. has the main operation in Amman, where it processes Syrian citizens seeking asylum in America and other citizens as well.
The U.S. embassy said that Washington was working on expanding its capacity to identify, screen, and admit refugees who are qualified, in line with a goal set around a year ago to receive 125,000 refugees from around the world in the fiscal year ending September 30.
In the fiscal year 2022, there were 4,556 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. That was a significant increase from the year before when there were 1,246 Syrian refugees who were admitted. The fiscal year 2016 saw the largest number of refugees from Syria admitted—12,587.
With this in mind, the following are things to know about what’s going on currently with Syrian refugees and refugee programs in the U.S. in general.
What is the Refugee Process in the U.S.?
Until recently, the United States was the top country in the world for refugee admissions. For example, during World War II, hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans became refugees, and during the Cold War, refugees came from Europe and Asia to escape communism.
In the 1980s, the U.S. started using a standardized, permanent system to identify, vet, and resettle refugees, and that’s still being used today.
The size of the program has shifted, and the war in Syria and the migration crisis in Europe increased the scrutiny of people coming from the Middle East. That started with the Obama Administration and continued with the Trump Administration.
The Trump Administration put a ban on refugees from some countries and made big cuts to the overall admission of refugees, which then led to debates about the national security implications of policies relating to refugees.
Conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine have continued to displace millions of people, and the Biden Administration is now at the helm of the U.S. refugee program.
The refugee process includes:
- You have to receive a referral for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). If you receive a referral, you can be eligible to get help filling out your application. Then you’re interviewed abroad by an officer of USCIS, who determines if you’re eligible for resettlement.
- Your case might include your spouse and children who are unmarried, and under 21 years old. In some situations, it may include other family members. You might include a same-sex spouse in the application if you’re legally married.
- There isn’t a fee to apply, and the information provided isn’t shared with an applicant’s home country.
- Eligibility for status as a refugee is determined case-by-case through interviews with a USCIS officer. The interview is meant as a way to get information about someone’s claim and their eligibility for resettlement to the U.S. Evidence that’s looked at during the interview includes whether the applicant meets the definition of a refugee, is not fully resettled in a third country, and is qualified under a processing priority that’s designated. A refugee also has to be otherwise admissible under U.S. law.
Along with the Syrian and Ukraine crises, also especially relevant in the past year has been refugee status for Afghan nationals.
In March 2022, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new designation of Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a period of 18 months.
A refugee under the law is a migrant who’s seeking entry from a third country. Refugees have to be able to show they fear persecution on the basis of one of five protected grounds. These are race, religion, political opinion, membership in certain social groups, or nationality.
An asylum seeker is a person who would meet the criteria to be a refugee, but they apply within the U.S. or at a point of entry. There’s a different protocol.
Increases in Refugee Admissions
President Joe Biden’s Administration significantly increased refugee admissions. The Trump Administration put a cap at 15,000 annually worldwide.
In September of this year, President Biden said that a maximum of 125,000 people could be admitted to the U.S. under refugee status in the next 12 months. That cap is the same as the year before.
Despite the fact that 125,000 refugees could have been let in the previous year, the administration processed just 20,000, so advocates are pushing for faster processing.
Some feel that bringing people from Afghanistan and Ukraine over the past year strained resources and made it harder for refugees from other parts of the world, including Syria and similar countries.
A group of senators wrote to the Secretary of State as well as the Secretary of Homeland Security, urging them to rebuild the refugee program’s capacity so more people could come to America if they were driven from their homes.
The letter said that the need for “robust” resettlement of refugees is high, and if the trends continue as they are currently, there could be an ever-growing population of people forced to flee their homes but with limited available options.
Returning to the topic of Syrian refugees, many refugees are increasingly being turned back at the border. Neighboring states are imposing restrictions, bans, and quotas so that people are trapped in Syria. For example, Jordan has been making it harder for single men in particular, but sometimes families are being denied.
Some feel that in response, the U.S. should commit to a resettlement initiative of significance that would show a commitment to Syria’s neighbors to share in hosting some of the refugees at least.