Each year thousands of people are welcomed to the United States as refugees—individuals fleeing dire circumstances in their home country. Since 1980, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been tasked with helping refugees find new homes and jobs in the United States. This process not only helps the individuals and families who have fled their home countries, but also adds to the vibrancy of their new communities.
Refugees are admitted through a formal process, often after years in a resettlement camp in another country and always after extensive screening. They are met at the airport by resettlement agencies that help them establish a home, get a job, and begin the process of learning English. (The Uniting for Ukraine program is a separate initiative from the regular refugee resettlement process.)
As part of their placement, refugees are required to find work in their new homes within 90 days of placement, though some states have in recent years developed programs to allow resettlement agencies to help refugees for a longer period to help them advance to better employment and community integration, among them the New York State Enhanced Services for Refugees Program.
The rate of refugee acceptances to the United States fell sharply during the Trump Administration. The actual number of admissions was 85,000 in 2016, the last year of the Obama Administration, The ceiling authorized for refugee admissions by the end of the Trump Administration in 2020 was a fraction of that, just 18,000, and the number actually admitted was even lower, not even 12,000, as shown in data presented by the Migration Policy Institute. During the Biden years, the ceiling was significantly raised to 125,000 in 2022. But the actual number of refugees admitted is still low, as only 25,000 refugees were accepted and placed in the United States as of October 1, 2022.
In New York State, there were an average of 4,225 refugees per year resettled here from 2009 to 2016 but the state accepted just 2,061 in 2019, 860 in 2020, and 903 in 2021. The average acceptance rate for refugees in this period has decreased more than 200 percent from the pre-Trump era.
The drop in refugee resettlement reflects the lasting impact of the exclusionary policies of the Trump Administration as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former president systematically reduced the number of refugees the United States would accept throughout his term until it reached a historic low in 2020 of just 15,000 individuals per year. From 2000 to 2016, the annual cap for refugees fleeing warfare, persecution, and poverty ranged between 70,000 and 85,000. Trump-Era policies cut those figures by 82 percent in just four years.
Refugee Resettlement in New York State 2019 to 2021
|Refugees Placed in 2019||Refugees Placed in 2020||Refugees Placed in 2021||Total Refugee Placements from 2019 to 2021|
|New York City||307||141||85||533|
|Upstate New York||1,753||719||818||3,290|
|Lower Hudson Valley||1||0||0||1|
|New York State Total||2,061||860||903||3,824|
Fig 1. Immigration Research Initiative Analysis of data from New York Department of State Bureau of Refugee Arrivals and Resettlement
Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of refugees accepted to the U.S. since 2019 were from Afghanistan. In fact, 893 Afghan refugees have been resettled in New York State since 2019.
Most Refugees are Resettled in Upstate New York
Most refugees resettled in New York State (86 percent) are resettled in cities across Upstate New York. Of the 3,291 refugees who were placed upstate between 2019 and 2021, 31 percent were resettled in Buffalo, New York, where 10 percent of residents are immigrants. Another 22 percent of upstate refugees are resettled in Syracuse, where eight percent of residents are immigrants. New York City, Albany, and Rochester accepted 14 percent, 13 percent, and 11 percent of refugees respectively.
That most refugees find their new homes upstate has a remarkable impact on many communities dealing with declining population and shrinking economic opportunities. Newly arrived refugees have contributed to expanding the labor force, creating new businesses, enriching the cultural milieu, and in some cases helping reverse population decline.
Countries of Origin for Refugees Placed in New York State, 2019-2021
|Number of Refugees Accepted in 2019||Number of Refugees Accepted in 2020||Number of Refugees Accepted in 2021||Total Refugees from 2019-2021|
|Central African Republic||9||10||3||22|
|Dem. Rep. Congo||558||114||223||895|
|Sri Lanka (Ceylon)||5||8||8||21|