President Joe Biden’s administration wants to nearly double the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 1,25,000 in the upcoming American fiscal year, starting 1 October, in keeping with a campaign promise, according to a statement from the State Department.
The State Department will consult with the Department of Homeland Security and Congress to lift the cap, which was set at 62,500 for the 2020 fiscal yearending this month, the statement said.
The plan to dramatically increase refugee admissions comes at a time when tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are on US military bases, awaiting resettlement in America. Many still at risk were left behind in the chaotic final days of the withdrawal of US forces.
Biden, a Democrat, who took office in January, had promised during his campaign that, if brought to power, his government would reverse the course of his predecessor Donald Trump, a Republican president, cut the refugee cap to just 15,000, the lowest level in the history of the modern refugee programme of the US.
Biden had been dithering on the promise until immigration advocates raised the heat, forcing his hand.
Biden has struggled with mixed messaging on immigration. Apprehensions at the US-Mexico border are at a 20-year high. Most recently, thousands of mainly Haitian migrants have set up a makeshift encampment under an international bridge in southern Texas.
The refugee programme is distinct from the asylum system. Refugees typically apply for relief abroad, are vetted extensively and then are given legal status and resources to establish themselves in the US.
Asylum seekers can present themselves to border agents and claim fear of return, triggering a long US court process. But since March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, US authorities expelled most border crossers under a public health order without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.