The Biden administration initially said it was keeping the Trump-era cap of 15,000 annual refugee admissions but increased it fourfold after facing blowback.
WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. is raising the annual cap on refugees allowed into the country to 62,500 after initial criticism last month for retaining the former administration’s limit.
While Biden initially signaled on April 16 he would keep the cap of 15,000 refugees, a limit set by former President Donald Trump, the White House reversed course the same day and said the president would revise that determination.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at the time the president took “immediate action to reverse the Trump policy that banned refuges from many key regions, to enable flights from those regions to begin within days,” and promised an increased refugee cap by May 15.
In a presidential memorandum Monday, Biden noted his initial April determination on the refugee cap hadn’t foreclosed his ability to raise that ceiling in the future. The memo said the president’s intent last month was “to adjust only the allocation of admissions” and decide on the appropriate number of refugee slots in a separate directive.
In a separate statement, Biden said the new total cap of 62,500 “erases the historically low number set by the previous administration.”
“We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway. We have reopened the program to new refugees. And by changing the regional allocations last month, we have already increased the number of refugees ready for departure to the United States,” he said.
Allocations for refugees from different parts of the world are significantly increased through Monday’s directive. For example, only 7,000 slots had been set aside for refugees from Africa but that cap has been raised to 22,000. A general, unallocated reserve was also upped from 1,000 to 12,500.
The president has previously pledged to raise the overall refugee limit even further, to 125,000 refugees by the fiscal year beginning in October. The budget the White House submitted to Congress reflects that commitment, Biden said.
“That goal will still be hard to hit. We might not make it the first year,” he said. “But we are going to use every tool available to help these fully-vetted refugees fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries. This will reassert American leadership and American values when it comes to refugee admissions.”