U.S. President Joe Biden said Feb. 4 he plans to raise annual refugee admissions to 125,000 in the coming fiscal year.

The decision would mark an increase of more than eight times after former President Donald Trump reduced the refugee admission ceiling to an unprecedented low of 15,000.

“I’m approving an executive order to begin the hard work of restoring our refugee admissions program to help meet the unprecedented global need,” Biden said.

“Through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), the Federal Government, cooperating with private partners and American citizens in communities across the country, demonstrates the generosity and core values of our Nation, while benefiting from the many contributions that refugees make to our country,” the White House said.

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The decision also represents a return to a refugee admission policy similar to the one under former president Barack Obama, in which the ceiling for refugee admissions was set to 110,000 just prior to Obama’s departure from office.

Yael Schacher, senior U.S. advocate for independent advocacy group Refugees International, commended the decision. 

“We hope this signals that the U.S. is going to take a leadership role on resettling people who need it,” Schacher said. “This is a really important reset for the United States.”

Under the refugee resettlement reform, the Biden administration would also seek to review refugee applicants who aided U.S. interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for Iraqi and Afghan allies provide humanitarian protection to nationals of Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing an ongoing, serious threat because they provided faithful and valuable service to the United States, including its troops serving in those countries.  The Federal Government should ensure that these important programs are administered without undue delay,” according to the White House.

Under the Trump administration, only 537 Iraqi refugees out of 4,000 spots were resettled in the fiscal year ending in Sept. 2020.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas criticized Biden’s plans to increase refugee admissions, saying it would “put American jobs and safety at risk during a pandemic.”

Contrarily, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a Maryland-based refugee resettlement agency, praised Biden’s plan and claimed it would be “life-saving for hundreds of thousands fleeing violence and persecution.”

In addition, Biden’s plan would also assist people who have been displaced as a result of climate change, which is another issue Biden has sought to tackle as he recently re-entered the Paris Climate Accord after Trump withdrew from it.

Biden’s plan seeks to explore “options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change; mechanisms for identifying such individuals, including through referrals; proposals for how these findings should affect use of United States foreign assistance to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change; and opportunities to work collaboratively with other countries, international organizations and bodies, non-governmental organizations, and localities to respond to migration resulting directly or indirectly from climate change.”

Written ByLinn Win

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