History of Refugee Resettlement
in the United States

It is the historic policy of the United States to admit to this country refugees of special humanitarian concern, reflecting our core values and our tradition of being a safe haven for the oppressed.

Following the admission of over 250,000 displaced Europeans, the first refugee legislation was enacted by the U.S. Congress -- the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This legislation provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans. Later laws provided for admission of persons fleeing Communist regimes, largely from Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Korea and China, and in the 1960's Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro arrived en masse. Most of these waves of refugees were assisted by private ethnic and religious organizations in the U. S., which formed the base for the public/private roles of U.S. resettlement today.

With the fall of Vietnam in April of 1975, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of Indochinese using an ad hoc Indochinese Refugee Task Force, and temporary funding. Congress realized it needed to create procedures to deal with the on-going resettlement of refugees. Consequently, the U. S. Congress passed The Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized the resettlement services of all refugees admitted to the U.S. This Act incorporates the definition of “refugee” used in the U.N. Protocol, and makes provision for regular flow as well as emergency admission of refugees, and authorizes federal assistance for the resettlement of refugees. The Refugee Act provides the legal basis for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Since 1975 the U. S. has resettled approximately 2.6 million refugees, with nearly 77% being either Indochinese or citizens of the former Soviet Union. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980 to a low of 27,000 in 2002.