Raising Refugee Limit for U.S. Won't Bring Quick Resettlement

  • Only 'vulnerable' refugees are considered for U.S. admission
  • Applying for resettlement in the U.S. can take two years

Amid a swelling humanitarian crisis sparked by the bloody civil war in Syria, the Obama administration plans to raise the number refugees it accepts for resettlement in the U.S. to 85,000 in the next fiscal year and 100,000 in 2017.

That’s up from the 70,000 refugees now allowed in. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the change Sunday in Berlin. The higher limit will provide room to take many as 10,000 refugees from Syria in the next year, a goal that the administration previously announced and one that will be neither fast nor simple to meet.

Only a select few of the estimated 4.1 million people who have fled Syria’s war will be eligible for resettlement in the U.S. Those hoping for a new life in America face nearly two years of bureaucratic red tape, rigorous security and health screenings and substantial uncertainty.

Workers from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross evaluate Syrian refugees who have fled to camps in neighboring countries. To be considered for U.S. admission, refugees usually must be deemed "vulnerable,” a designation that includes widowed women, unaccompanied children, political targets of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and those with life-threatening medical conditions.

Interviews by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officers aim at establishing whether Syrians meet the legal definition of refugee: a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. Customs officers also help prepare documents and biographies for security officials who determine whether refugees have connections to terrorists or militants.

After refugees are placed in the U.S., local resettlement agencies funded by the government help them find safe, affordable housing and jobs and adjust to American culture. The Office of Refugee Resettlement provides financial assistance to immigrants for up to five years after their arrival. Once in the country, refugees can freely travel or relocate.