Posted on March 14, 2019

U.S. Resettled More Refugees than Any Other Nation in 2017 and 2018

Nayla Rush, Center for Immigration Reform, March 14, 2019

New data released by the UN refugee agency on its 2018 resettlement activities shows that the United States remained the top country for refugee resettlement. What’s more, the vast majority of refugees whom the UN referred to third countries for resettlement are neither the most vulnerable nor in urgent need of relocation.

This report was released last month by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and gives a statistical snapshot of the agency’s resettlement activities from January to December 2018. It shows that, of the 1,195,349 refugees that UNHCR considered to be in need of resettlement globally in 2018, only 55,692 (4.7 percent) were resettled. This was the basis for a recent UNHCR claim that “less than 5 per cent of global refugee resettlement needs” were met last year.

But that percentage is misleading. What we should be looking at is how many refugees were actually resettled out of those submitted for resettlement. This may sound redundant, but for refugees to be considered for resettlement, they first need to be referred (or “submitted”) by UNHCR to potential resettlement countries. In fact, UNHCR submission capacities are limited. As State Department official Kelly Gauger underlined some time ago, “the notion that we [the United States] could get to 100,000 refugees when UNHCR doesn’t have nearly the capacity to send us referrals for 100,000 refugees just isn’t possible.” Admissions, therefore, have more to do with the number of submissions than they do with actual needs. Let us then calculate the following: Out of those refugees submitted for resettlement by UNHCR, how many were actually resettled in the last five years? (See Table 1.)

So, despite UNHCR claims that many more refugees were in need of resettlement, the vast majority of those whom UNHCR actually submitted for resettlement were resettled.

The recent fact sheet also provides us with a wealth of other information about refugees submitted by UNHCR for resettlement in calendar year 2018, including top countries of origin of the refugees, the top countries of asylum (usually neighboring countries to which the refugees initially fled), and the top destinations, as well as submission priority levels and categories.

Despite refugee advocates’ constant criticism of the Trump administration’s refugee policy, the United States accepted more refugees for resettlement in 2018 than any of the other 29 nations who did so. The United States was, in fact, the top resettlement submission and destination country in 2018 and 2017 {snip}


Most refugees submitted for resettlement, therefore, did not belong to the most vulnerable categories. Just like most submissions priority levels were far from urgent.

Away from politicized discourses, data speaks for itself: Those who are submitted for resettlement are not those facing the most danger, and the United States remains the top nation in refugee protection, including resettlement.

[Editor’s Note: The original article includes tables and much detailed information about resettlement law and application.]