Updated December 6, 1999
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy:
Facts and Issues
Specialist in Immigration Policy
Domestic Social Policy Division
The refugee admissions ceiling for fiscal year 2000 is 90,000, with Europe
accounting for more than half the numbers. P.L. 106-104 reauthorized the Department
of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS/ORR) program
through FY2002. P.L. 106-113, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, appropriated
$426.5 million for for (HHS/ORR) for FY2000. P.L. 106-113 also extended the socalled Lautenberg amendment for an additional year; and reenacted a version of the
McCain amendment, relating to Vietnamese refugees, for 2 years. The principal refugee
issue in 1999 was the emergency admission of Kosovar refugees, in what was probably
the most significant test of the flexibility of the refugee provisions since their enactment
in 1980. The United States has admitted 15,825 Kosovar Albanians from the refugee
camps in Macedonia who had close family ties here or were particularly vulnerable. The
State Department reports that 2,750 refugees have returned to Kosovo. P.L. 106-31,
the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, included $100 million for resettling
Kosovar refugees in the United States, plus additional funds for transporting them here.
This report will be updated to reflect legislative and other action.
Background and Definitions
The admission of refugees to the United States and their resettlement here are
authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Refugee Act
of 1980. There have been very few changes in these procedures in the 19 years since their
enactment. The 1980 Act had two basic purposes: (1) to provide a uniform procedure for
refugee admissions; and (2) to authorize federal assistance to resettle refugees and
promote their self-sufficiency. The intent of the legislation was to end an ad hoc approach
to refugee admissions and resettlement that had characterized U.S. refugee policy since
World War II.
The term “refugee” is defined by the INA to conform with the definition used in the
United Nations Protocol and Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the
United States is a party. A “refugee” is a person who is fleeing because of persecution or
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership
in a particular social group, or political opinion, and who is “of special humanitarian
concern” to the United States. Refugees are processed and admitted to the United States
from abroad. Separate provision is made in the INA for the granting of asylum on a
case-by-case basis to aliens who are physically present in the United States or at a land
border or port of entry and who meet the definition of “refugee.” Asylees are not included
in the refugee allocations shown below.
Refugee admissions are governed by different criteria and numerical limits than
immigrant admissions. The annual number of refugee admissions and the allocation of
these numbers among refugee groups are determined at the start of each fiscal year by the
President after consultation with the Congress (see Table 1). As discussed below,
provision is also made for consultations in the event of unforeseen emergency refugee
Table 1. Refugee Admission Ceilings, FY1996 - FY2000
Source: Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Years 1997-2000. Report to Congress, Departments of
State, Justice, and HHS; PD 99-33, August 12, 1999; PD 99-45, September 30, 1999
Newly Independent States and the Baltic Nations, previously known as the Former Soviet Union (FSU).
Includes an unfunded reserve of 5,000 to be used if necessary and if funding becomes available. FY1998
estimated admission figure assumes authorization of the use of 1,000 of these numbers.
FY1998 admission figure includes reprogramming of the 3,000 unallocated numbers and numbers
unused by Latin America and East Asia to Europe/Former Yugoslavia for a total of 54,000 European
Includes 3,000 unfunded reserve available if necessary and funded, plus 13,000 for the Kosovar refugees.
FY2000 refugee allocations. Following consultation with Congress, President
Clinton authorized a FY2000 ceiling of 90,000 admissions on September 30, 1999. The
European allocation of 47,000 makes up more than half of the total, and consists of two
subgroups. The first is the former Yugoslavia, probably the refugee group of greatest
concern to the Clinton Administration, at least as measured by numbers. Quoting from the
Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2000: Report to Congress, “As a measure
of the importance the U.S. continues to attach to the humanitarian needs of this
population..., we propose an allocation of 17,000 admissions from the former Yugoslavia
during FY2000. In addition, we propose to admit up to an additional 10,000 refugees
from the Kosovo conflict, providing that existing resources from the 1999 Kosovo
Emergency Supplemental are available to fund the cost of their admission.” 1 The second
European subgroup is the Newly Independent States (NIS) and Baltic Nations (previously
known as the former Soviet Union). The allocation for this subgroup is 20,000.
The allocation of 18,000 for Africa is the highest to date for that region. The FY2000
consultation document notes that, as in previous years, the population will be “diverse and
scattered over the continent,” with the Sudanese victims of religious persecution in Egypt,
Ethiopia and Kenya singled out for special mention (p. 8). The East Asian allocation of
8,000, down from 40,000 in FY1995, is the lowest for that region since the Vietnam War
ended in 1975. Resettlement from camps in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia is not
expected to exceed 500. Most of the East Asian numbers are expected to be used for incountry processing of a final group of former reeducation camp detainees and Amerasians
entering under the Orderly Departure Program (ODP), residual Resettlement Opportunity
for Vietnamese Returnees (ROVR) applicants, and former U.S. government employees.
The Near East/South Asia number will continue to be used for Iraqis and Iranians, and is
being increased to accommodate an anticipated increase in referrals, including Afghan
women in vulnerable circumstances. As in the past, the 3,000 Latin America/Caribbean
numbers will be used primarily for Cubans.
Kosovar Albanians.2 As of November 30, 1999, the United States had admitted
15,825 Kosovar Albanians from the refugee camps in Macedonia who, in the Vice
President’s words, had “close family ties in America” or were particularly “vulnerable.”
Refugee processing is now limited to emergency referrals by the UNHCR. The State
Department reports that 2,748 refugees had returned to Kosovo as of December 3, 1999.
While the Vice President referred to the refugees’ admission to the United States as
temporary, in fact they were admitted under the refugee provisions of the INA, which
provide for permanent admission after a year in refugee status. However, from the
beginning the State Department indicated that it would “provide maximum opportunities
for people to return,” including transportation. On July 12, the State Department
announced that it had contracted with International Organization for Migration (IOM) to
assist refugees who wished to return to Kosovo. Quoting from the statement, “Refugees
will make the decision whether to return or to permanently resettle in the U.S. While the
Department is not encouraging Kosovar refugees to return precipitously, it is responding
to growing interest among them to return sooner rather than later.” The State Department
Departments of State, Justice, and Health and Human Services, Proposed Refugee Admissions
for Fiscal Year 2000: Report to Congress, July 1999, p. 17. (Henceforth cited as the FY2000
For additional background, see CRS Report RS20154, Kosovo: Refugee Assistance and
Temporary Resettlement, by Lois B. McHugh and Joyce Vialet.
will fund the return travel of Kosovar refugees evacuated from Macedonia under the U.S.
special assistance program who arrived here by July 31, 1999, provided they leave prior
to May 1, 2000.3 Additionally, the IOM travel loan these refugees agreed to before they
arrived here will be canceled.
The INA includes a provision for refugee emergencies that has been used only four
times since the refugee provisions were adopted in 1980.4 If the President determines after
appropriate consultation with Congress that an unforeseen emergency refugee situation
exists and that the admission of the refugees is justified by grave humanitarian concerns
or is otherwise in the national interest, he may specify an additional number of refugees to
be admitted during the succeeding 12-month period. The Administration consulted with
Congress regarding the addition of what turned out to be 13,000 numbers for the Kosovar
Albanians to the previous FY1999 refugee admissions ceiling of 78,000.
Legislation and Issues. The State Department’s FY1999 expenses of $40 million
for the transportation and initial resettlement of the Kosovar Albanians is being funded
from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund (ERMA). On April 29,
the President authorized the use of $20 million from ERMA.5 P.L. 106-31, the
Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, includes an additional $165 million for
ERMA, which is expected to be the source of the other $20 million.
Lautenberg amendment. P.L. 106-113, the Consolidated Appropriations Act,
FY2000, included a provision extending the “Lautenberg amendment” through FY2000.
The “Lautenberg amendment” is a provision of P.L. 101-167, the FY1990 Foreign
Operations Appropriations Act, that requires the Attorney General to designate categories
of former Soviet and Indochinese nationals for whom less evidence is needed to prove
refugee status (section 599D of P.L. 101-167); and provides for adjustment to permanent
resident status for certain Soviet and Indochinese nationals granted parole after being
denied refugee status (section 599E). Applicants for refugee status under the special
provision are only required to prove that they are members of a protected category with
a credible but not necessarily individual fear of persecution. Normal refugee procedures
require individuals to establish a well-founded fear of persecution on a case-by-case basis.
Vietnamese refugees. P.L. 106-113 also extends through FY2001 a revised version
of an expired provision previously referred to as the McCain amendment. Quoting from
the conference report, the provision “restores eligibility for U.S. refugee resettlement to
certain sons and daughters of Vietnamese re-education camp survivors, and also provides
such eligibility for sons and daughters who were denied the right the resettle in the United
States [solely] because their government-issued residency documents did not prove
Of the 15,825 Kosovars admitted, ll,200 arrived here by July 31, 1999 and are eligible for the
return home program. Almost 25% (2,748) of the refugees eligible to return have done so.
In addition to the Kosovar Albanians, the emergency consultation provision (INA, §207(b)) was
used in the spring of 1980 by President Carter, for 3,500 Cubans who had sought refuge in the
Peruvian Embassy in Havana; by President Reagan, for an additional 15,000 refugees from Eastern
Europe and the Soviet Union during FY1988; and by President Bush for an additional 22,500
refugees during FY1989, primarily from the Soviet Union.
Presidential Determination No. 99-22; Federal Register, May 7, 199, p. 24501.
‘continuous coresidency’ with their parents” (H.Rept. 106-479; Congressional Record,
Nov. 17, 1999, Part II, p. H12575).
Refugee Resettlement Assistance
The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement
(HHS/ORR), within the Administration for Children and Families, administers an initial
transitional assistance program for temporarily dependent refugees and Cuban/Haitian
entrants. Since its establishment in 1980, the refugee resettlement program has been
justified on the grounds that the admission of refugees is a federal decision, entailing some
federal responsibility. Unlike immigrants, who usually enter through family or employment
ties, refugees are admitted on humanitarian grounds and there is no requirement that they
demonstrate economic self-sufficiency.
P.L. 106-113, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY2000, appropriated $426.5
million for HHS/ORR. The HHS/ORR FY2000 appropriation also includes funds to
implement P.L. 105-320, the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998, which authorizes $7.5
million for HHS grants for domestic treatment programs. HHS/ORR played a key role in
the resettlement of the Kosovar Albanian refugees. In addition to the FY1999
appropriation shown in Table 2, $100 million was appropriated for HHS/ORR in P.L.
106-31 “to assist in the temporary resettlement of displaced Kosovar Albanians,” to remain
available through September 30, 2001.
Table 2. Refugee Resettlement Funding for FY1996- FY2000
($ in millions)
Victims of Torturea
Source: HHS Administration for Children and Families, Fiscal Years 1999 and FY2000 Justifications
of Estimates for Appropriations Committees; H.Rept.106-479 (Congressional Record, Nov. 17, 1999, Part
II, p. H12458).
Includes $20.3 million in reappropriated unobligated FY1997 funds.
Activities funded by HHS/ORR include cash and medical assistance and social
services intended to assist refugees in becoming socially and economically self-sufficient,
preventive health services, and targeted assistance for impacted areas. Special refugee
cash assistance (RCA) and refugee medical assistance (RMA) have been the heart of the
refugee program, accounting for over half of the HHS/ORR annual budget (see Table 2
above). This is state-administered assistance to help needy refugees who are categorically
ineligible to access the mainstream federal assistance programs. RCA and RMA have been
available for 8 months after entry since October 1, 1991. RMA benefits are based on the
state’s Medicaid program. Similarly, RCA payments have been based on the state’s Aid
to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) payment to a family unit of the same size.
For example, an able-bodied couple below age 65 would receive an RCA benefit equal to
that of a two-person AFDC family. HHS/ORR has published a proposed rule amending
its regulations to reflect changes resulting from the replacement of AFDC by Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (see below).
HHS/ORR was reauthorized through FY2002 by P.L. 106-104. The agency is
proposing a significant reform of RCA and other services to refugees who do not qualify
for TANF. The proposed “public/private partnership” would transfer a major part of the
cash assistance function from State welfare departments to private voluntary agencies.
This plan is being put in place by regulation; the proposed rule was published on January
8, 1999 (Federal Register, pp. 1159-1175). The HHS/ORR program was significantly
affected by the welfare reform legislation enacted on August 22, 1996 and subsequent
amendments.6 Prior to this legislation, refugees who met the requirements of the
mainstream welfare programs were immediately and indefinitely eligible to participate in
them. This is no longer the case. The rules governing refugee eligibility for Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) for the Aged, Blind and Disabled; Medicaid; TANF; and Food
Stamps are summarized below.
Table 3. Refugee Eligibility for Federal Public Assistance Programs
Refugees Admitted by 8/22/96
Refugees Admitted after
Eligible if receiving benefits on 8/26/96,
or if subsequently disabled; otherwise
eligible for 7 years after entry
Eligible for 7 years after
Eligible if receiving SSI; otherwise
eligible for 7 years after entry, then state
Eligible for 7 years after
entry, then state option
Eligible for 5 years after entry, then state
Eligible 5 years after entry,
then state option
Eligible if over 65 by 8/22/96, while
under 18, or if subsequently disabled;
otherwise eligible for 7 years after entry
Eligible for 7 years after
Hmong and their immediate family who belonged to tribes that provided assistance to the United States
in the Vietnam War are permanently eligible if they meet program requirements.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193),
as amended. See CRS Report 96-617, Alien Eligibility for Public Assistance.