White House Officially Announces Lowest Ever Cap on Refugee Resettlement

The White House formally announced that refugee resettlement to the U.S. in FY 2021 will be capped at 15,000, the lowest number, by far, since enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980.  In contrast, in FY 1980, the U.S. resettled over 207,000 refugees.  The administration had previously signaled this lowest-ever cap, but it was not official until the announcement.

Maine received 40 individuals for refugee resettlement in FY 2020, when the administration capped refugee admissions at 18,000 but admitted only 11,814.  This is a sharp reduction from FY 2016, when nearly 85,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S., including 650 in Maine.

The administration’s position is an abdication of the U.S.’s prior leading global role in providing humanitarian protection to those forced  to leave their countries to seek safety.  But in addition to this rejection of the nation’s values, the reduction has a real impact on the nation’s, and Maine’s, economy and labor force.

As Maine’s workforce ages, and the population of over-65 year olds exceeds the number of under 18 year olds who will eventually comprise Maine’s workforce, Maine needs immigrants, including refugees, to keep Maine’s workforce vibrant.   Refugees have been a reliable source of newcomers to Maine since at least 1980, but federal policy since 2017 has put a stranglehold on this source of new contributors to Maine.   Fewer refugees were resettled in the state cumulatively from FY 2017 through FY 2020 than in FY 2016 alone.

A comparable reduction has been experienced in Erie, Pennsylvania, which received over 600 refugees in FY 2016 and only 44 refugees in FY 2020.  This Marketplace report discusses the economic impact of reduced refugee resettlement there, that is mirrored in Maine.