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Frequently Asked Questions

U.S. Refugee Resettlement

Who is eligible for refugee status in the U.S.?

Under U.S. law, a refugee is someone who:

  • Is located outside of the United States
  • Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States
  • Demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
  • Is not firmly resettled in another country
  • Is admissible to the United States

A refugee does not include anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

For the legal definition of refugee, see section 1101(a)(42) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

How rigorous is the refugee admissions vetting process?

In August 2018, the US Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) published its list of detailed screenings. In addition, there are a number of steps in the United Nation’s refugee screening process plus the US Refugee Resettlement Program. This chart provides further details.

How many refugees are being proposed for admission to the U.S. and from what categories?

The admissions ceiling for refugees in the current federal fiscal year (Oct. 2019-Sept. 2020) is 18,000, a further drastic reduction from previous years. The visas are proposed to be allocated as follows:

Population of special humanitarian concern Admit up to
Refugees who:

  • have been persecuted or a have well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion; or
  • who are within a category of aliens established under subsection (b) of Section 599D of Title V, P. L. 101-167, as amended (the Lautenberg and Specter Amendments).
Refugees who are within a category of aliens listed in Section 1243(a) of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, Title XII, Div. A, P. L. 110-181, as amended. 4,000
Refugees who are nationals or habitual residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. 1,500
Other refugees not covered by the foregoing categories, including:

  • Those referred to the USRAP by a U.S. embassy in any location.
  • Those who gain access to the USRAP for family reunification through the Priority 3 process or through a Form I-730 following-to-join petition.
  • Those currently located in Australia, Nauru, or Papua New Guinea who gain access to USRAP pursuant to an arrangement between the United States and Australia.
Total proposed refugee admissions in FY 2020 18,000
Refugees get huge settlement grants and interest free loans, don’t they?

No. A modest grant of $1,175 is provided on a per capita basis. Resettlement agencies are required to meet a variety of basic needs, including housing, food, and transportation costs for 90 days after arrival. Frequently, the needs exceed available funding as noted on the following chart:

Household Size Single Person 2 People 3 People 4 People 5 People
Spending Money $20 $40 $40 $60 $60
Security Deposit $550 $600 $650 $650 $700
Rent (3 months) $1,650 $1,800 $1,950 $1,950 $2,100
Home Set-Up $400 $500 $600 $900 $1,100
Utilities (3 months) $945 $945 $945 $1,100 $1,100
Food @ $5 day/each $150 $300 $450 $600 $750
Bus Pass (1 month) $90 $180 $180 $240 $240
Subtotal – Expense $3,805 $4,365 $4,815 $5,500 $6,050
Resettlement Allowance $1,175 $2,350 $3,235 $4,700 $5,875
Funding Gap ($2,630) ($2,015) ($1,580) ($800) ($175)

Sometimes, refugees live within walking distance of their services and do not need bus passes; other times their landlord might waive the security deposit. In any case, the resettlement agency must reach out to the community for charitable contributions to meet the funding gap, which averages $100 per refugee sponsored.

To assist with initial transition, refugees are also eligible for TANF benefits (cash assistance) at Missouri state rates and Medicaid for no longer than eight months after arrival.  However, since TANF rates are so low, most newly arrived refugees go to work as soon as they can find a job, regardless of their knowledge of English or previous work experience.

Also, after six months, refugees are required to begin repaying their travel loans which can cost as much as $1,500 per person.

In addition, there are special small business start-up loans for refugee entrepreneurs. However, the interest rate for such loans is higher than if they borrowed from a bank. Once they build their credit history and acquire collateral, we encourage such borrowers to see business loans at a traditional financial institution.

What are some credible data resources?

Immigration Impact

Will Immigrants take American jobs, lower our wages, and especially hurt the poor?

This is the most common argument and also the one with the greatest amount of evidence rebutting it.  First, the displacement effect is small if it even affects natives at all.  Immigrants are typically attracted to growing regions and they increase the supply and demand sides of the economy once they are there, expanding employment opportunities.  Second, the debate over immigrant impacts on American wages is confined to the lower single digits—immigrants may increase the relative wages for some Americans by a tiny amount and decrease them by a larger amount for the few Americans who directly compete against them.  Immigrants likely compete most directly against other immigrants so the effects on less-skilled native-born Americans might be very small or even positive.   Learn more at

Do Immigrants abuse the welfare state?

Most legal immigrants do not have access to means-tested welfare for their first five years here with few exceptions that are mostly determined on the state level and funded with state taxes.  Illegal immigrants don’t have access at all—except for emergency Medicaid.

Immigrants are less likely to use means-tested welfare benefits than similar native-born Americans.  When they do use welfare, the dollar value of benefits consumed is smaller.  If poor native-born Americans used Medicaid at the same rate and consumed the same value of benefits as poor immigrants, the program would be 42 percent smaller.

Immigrants also make large net contributions to Medicare and Social Security, the largest portions of the welfare state, because of their ages, ineligibility, and their greater likelihood of retiring in other countries.  Far from draining the welfare state, immigrants have given the entitlement portions a few more years of operation before bankruptcy.  If you’re still worried about foreign-born consumption of welfare benefits, as I am, then it is far easier and cheaper to build a higher wall around the welfare state, instead of around the country. Learn more at

Today’s immigrants don’t assimilate like immigrants from previous waves did, do they?

There is a large amount of research that indicates immigrants are assimilating as well as or better than previous immigrant groups—even Mexicans.  The first piece of research is the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) September 2015 book titled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society.  It’s a thorough and brilliant summation of the relevant academic literature on immigrant assimilation.  Bottom line:  Assimilation is never perfect and always takes time, but it’s going very well.

The second book is a July 2015 book entitled Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015 that analyzes immigrant and second-generation integration on 27 measurable indicators across the OECD and EU countries.  This report finds more problems with immigrant assimilation in Europe, especially for those from outside of the European Union, but the findings for the United States are quite positive. . Learn more at


Do immigrants pose a unique risk today because of terrorism?

Terrorism is not a modern means to wage war.  There were a large number of bombings and terrorist attacks in the early 20th century, most of them committed by immigrants, socialists, and their fellow travelers.  Today, the deaths from terrorism committed by immigrants are greater than they were a century ago but the risk is still low compared to the benefits of immigration.  Overall, immigration is not correlated with terrorist attacks and the risk of being murdered in an attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist is also small.  For instance, the annual chance of being murdered in a terrorist attacked committed by a foreigner from 1975 through the end of 2015 was about 1 in 3.6 million per year.  Almost 99 percent of the people murdered by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil were murdered on 9/11 and the attackers entered on tourist visas and one student visa, not immigrant visas.

The risk of foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil has also increased fears over the government’s vetting system for new immigrants and travelers, prompting President Trump to temporarily ban travelers and immigrants from certain countries.  But according to my colleague David Bier, there have been very few vetting failures since 9/11.  From 2002 through 2016, only one radicalized terrorist entered the United States for every 29 million visa or status approvals.  Only one of the post-9/11 vetting failures resulted in an attack on U.S. soil, meaning that a single deadly terrorist entered as a result of a vetting failure for every 379 million visas or status approvals from 2002 through 2016.  That is a very low risk especially compared to the pre-9/11 vetting system. Learn more at

Will a brain drain of smart immigrants to the U.S. impoverish other countries?

The empirical evidence on this point is conclusive: The flow of skilled workers from low-productivity countries to high-productivity nations increases the incomes of people in the destination country, enriches the immigrants, and helps (or at least does not hurt) those left behind.  Furthermore, remittances that immigrants send home are often large enough to offset any loss in home country income through emigration.  In the long run, the potential to immigrate and the higher returns from education increase the incentive for workers in the developing world to acquire skills that they otherwise might not—increasing the quantity of human capital.  Instead of being called a brain drain, this phenomenon should be accurately called a skill flow.

Economic development should be about increasing the incomes of people and not the amount of economic activity in specific geographical regions.  Immigration and emigration do just that.  Learn more at

What are some credible data resources?

Crisis on America’s Southern Border

Why are so many people fleeing parts of Central America?

Gang warfare and violence have transformed parts of Central America into some of the most dangerous places on earth. In recent years, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (known as the Northern Triangle) have experienced a dramatic escalation in organized crime by gangs, called maras. Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America. Several cities, including San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are among the 10 most dangerous in the world. The most visible evidence of violence is the high rate of brutal homicides, but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence. Learn more at

Will amnesty or a failure to enforce our immigration laws destroy the Rule of Law in the U.S?

For a law to be consistent with the principle of the Rule of Law, it must be applied equally, have roughly ex ante predictable outcomes based on the circumstances, and be consistent with our Anglo-Saxon traditions of personal autonomy and liberty.  Our current immigration laws violate all of those principles.  The immigration laws are applied differently based on people’s country of birth via arbitrary quotas and other regulations, the outcomes are certainly not predictable, and they are hardly consistent with America’s traditional immigration policy and our conceptions of liberty.

For the Rule of Law to be present, good laws are required, not just strict adherence to government enforcement of bad laws.  An amnesty is an admission that our past laws have failed, they need reform, and that the net cost of enforcing them in the meantime exceeds the benefits.  That is why there have been numerous immigration amnesties throughout American history.

Enforcing laws that are inherently capricious and that are contrary to our traditions is inconsistent with a stable Rule of Law, which is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for economic growth.  Enforcing bad laws poorly is better than enforcing bad laws uniformly despite the uncertainty.  In immigration, poor enforcement of our destructive laws is preferable to strict enforcement but liberalization is the best option.  Admitting our laws failed, granting an amnesty for lawbreakers, and reforming the law would not doom the Rule of Law in the United States—it would strengthen it. Learn more at

Are immigrants a major source of crime?

This myth has been around for over a century.  It wasn’t true in 1896, 1909, 1931, 1994, or more recently.  Immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for violent and property crimes and cities with more immigrants and their descendants are more peaceful.  Some immigrants do commit violent and property crimes but, overall, they are less likely to do so.

The most contentious debate concerns whether illegal immigrants are more likely to be criminals than natives or legal immigrants.  A recent finding on this issue shows that illegal immigration is not correlated with violent crime rates nor is it causal.  Data limitations on the federal government force researchers to estimate the incarcerated illegal immigrant population using the residual estimation method which finds that illegal immigrants are much less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans but more likely than legal immigrants.  The state of Texas actually recorded arrests and convictions for specific crimes by the immigration status of the arrestee and convict.  In 2015 in Texas, there were 1,794 convictions against natives per 100,000 natives, 782 convictions of illegal immigrants for every 100,000 illegal immigrants, and only 262 convictions of legal immigrants per 100,000 of them.  For all but four crimes that accounted for 0.18 percent of all criminal convictions in Texas in 2015, there were fewer convictions against illegal immigrant than against natives.  The year 2016 shows even lower criminal conviction rates for illegal immigrants relative to natives in Texas.  Learn more at

What are some credible data resources?

Trustworthy Media Sources