The US refugee policy is expected to change drastically in the coming months. As the Biden Administration implements a historic limit of 125,000 refugees into the US, resettlement programs can expect new changes with their budget but should prepare for a more gradual shift in execution.
Few federal policies have seen as much change over the recent years as immigration and refugee resettlement.
From 2016 to 2020, the number of refugees admitted into the US dropped by 86%, with only 11,814 individuals entering in 2020 (1). These limited numbers stand in stark contrast to 2015, when the previous administration signed an executive order allowing 110,000 more refugees into the US. This sharp contrast in admittance speaks not only to current policies on border security, but also suggests the decline in resources for refugee-focused organizations.
However, things are looking up for refugee resettlement.
UNHCR estimates over 26 million refugees worldwide. Prior to 2017,
the US was the world leader on refugee protections (2).
Earlier this month, Federal appeals court blocked an executive order allowing state and local communities the right to refuse refugees (3). Such ruling will continue to allow resettlement agencies the ability to move refugees to towns where their families and networks may already exist.
While this landmark decision is indeed notable, it is not the only policy that refugee programs are looking towards in 2021.
As the world turns to watch the next president take the helm of the US, all have agreed that refugee policy will be among the first to drastically change. The Biden Administration has already promised to raise the refugee limit from 15,000 to 125,000 (4), a cap more in line with historical trends. They also plan to remove the border camps and reunite the 500+ children separated from their parents while seeking asylum.
With large policy adjustments slated for 2021, the question remains: How will refugee resettlement programs be affected, and what should they prepare for? Below are our top three expectations for these organizations (5) as we move into a new year and new administration.
Budget Changes Are on Their Way
Perhaps the most obvious change on the horizon, organizations can predict an increase in federal funding as the refugee cap grows to more than 8x its current size. This should come as a welcome respite for many programs, as almost all have had to close local offices and lay off staff (6).
Organizations can begin preparing now for the necessary hiring, office re-opening, and logistical planning that should accompany these budget increases.
Expect It to Take Time
While the dramatic increase in refugee limits is likely exciting for such programs, experts caution against expecting a quick implementation (7). Susan E. Rice (Biden’s incoming domestic policy advisor) states that “migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe… that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.”
Concerns over migration surges, as well as COVID-19, may be behind the decision to ease into re-opening entry for more refugees.
Although the incoming administration has placed refugee resettlement high among their priorities, it will likely be weeks—or even months—to truly begin the proposed reforms.
Programs Will Need Innovation
Above all else, refugee resettlement programs should take into consideration the importance of innovation to continue serving those in need. As the past few years have shown, refugee organizations are largely dependent on federal funding and policy. To help mitigate possible cuts in the future, programs can begin investing in grassroots and community-led organizing.
Programs seeking to innovate should also look to their data and case management. Incorporating data and information into organizational goals continually proves to be one of the best ways to limit costs, coordinate with other non-profits, and maximize program outcomes.
ClientTrack™ is an industry leader in helping refugee resettlement programs centralize their data into one simple, easy-to-navigate place. The Kentucky Office of Refugees has been able to use ClientTrack to manage over 3,500 refugees each year, receive immediate resource reports, and create new workflows—all while coordinating with food and nutrition services, housing organizations, and education programs.
2021 hints at many good changes for refugee resettlement programs. While some expectations are still in the air, we are hopeful that organizations will be able to better serve people fleeing violence, persecution, and fear.