US President Joe Biden will seek to raise annual refugee admissions to 125,000 in the coming fiscal year, he said on Thursday, a more than eight-fold increase after former President Donald Trump slashed levels to historic lows.
Speaking at the US State Department, Biden also said he would approve an executive order to build up the country's capacity to accept refugees in the face of "unprecedented global need."
Biden has pledged to restore the United States' historic role as a country that welcomes refugees from around the world after four years of cuts to admissions under Trump. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are 1.4 million refugees worldwide in urgent need of resettlement.
During his presidency, Trump portrayed refugees as a security threat and a drain on US communities as he took a series of measures to restrict legal immigration.
Biden is confronting a refugee program hobbled by Trump's policies, which led to the closure of resettlement offices and the reassignment of program staffers. Trump's actions also disrupted the pipeline of refugees to the United States, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden said the goal of 125,000 refugee admissions - up from 15,000 this year under Trump - would be for the coming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, 2021.
"It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged," Biden said. "But that's precisely what we're going to do."
Biden also intends to propose increasing the refugee ceiling for this year following a consultation with Congress, according to a White House fact sheet released on Thursday.
Biden's refugee order will rescind Trump policies that "limited refugee resettlement and required excessive vetting of applicants," according to the fact sheet.
Among those policies will be a 2019 Trump order that required US states and localities to consent to receive refugees, two people familiar with the matter said.
The rollback of that Trump order will be partly symbolic since a Maryland-based federal judge blocked it nationwide more than a year ago, a decision that was upheld in January by the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Biden's order, the text of which was not immediately available, will take steps to increase US capacity to process refugee applications, the fact sheet said.
The order is expected to highlight the role of climate change in the displacement of people around the world, the people familiar with it said.
Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served under as vice president, set a goal of admitting 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017. But Trump cut that number by more than half after taking office months later and steadily reduced refugee admissions in each year of his presidency that followed.
Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a Maryland-based refugee resettlement agency, said in a statement that Biden's decision to raise the refugee ceiling would be "lifesaving for hundreds of thousands fleeing violence and persecution."
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican with hardline immigration views, criticized Biden's planned refugee increase in a written statement, saying it would "put American jobs and safety at risk during a pandemic."