For decades, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has provided a pathway for refugees overseas who cannot safely return home. Still, despite growing numbers of globally displaced persons in need, USRAP has produced historically low arrival numbers for the last five years. Though the State Department’s expressed optimism has yet to manifest, the significant efforts toward restoring the USRAP signal that refugee resettlement numbers will improve by the latter half of 2023. 

Falling Short of Resettlement Goals in 2023

In the first five months of FY2023, refugee arrival numbers need to be higher to reach the presidential determination goal of 125,000 arrivals by the end of September. So far, the U.S. is on pace to resettle only about 30,000 refugees, a marginal increase from the 25,465 arrivals in FY2022. Historically, 42 percent of refugees resettled in a given year will have arrived by the end of Q2. 

2023 Arrivals

October 20222,152
November 20222,193
December 20222,412
January 20232,481
February 20233,069

*Data sourced from 

This year, the largest share of refugees continues to be from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as it has been for the last three fiscal years. Burma (Myanmar) remains in the top five sending countries to the U.S., consistent with the previous five years. Both countries are engaged in a protracted conflict. Similarly, the civil war in Syria has continued for a decade, with the recent earthquake near the Turkey-Syrian border compounding the displacement of Syrian refugees while devastating host communities. 

By Country (as of February 28, 2023)

Sending CountryNumber (people)
Democratic Republic of the Congo3,759
Burma (Myanmar)1,497
El Salvador351

*Data sourced from 

As part of its 2023 resettlement goals, the Biden-Harris administration focused on tripling refugee admissions from the Western Hemisphere to help manage the situation at the southern U.S. border. Though Guatemala, Colombia, and El Salvador continue to send hundreds of asylum seekers each month, USRAP is only a quarter of the way to achieving resettlement goals in the region halfway through the fiscal year. These goals have become especially critical as the end of Title 42 nears and the new Biden administration’s proposed rule limiting asylum seekers at the southern border nears implementation this May.

Repairing the Resettlement Pipeline 

Years of low refugee resettlement numbers under the Trump administration and the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on resettlement infrastructure: the resettlement program was suspended and in-person interviews, crucial to the USRAP process, stopped. Yet, despite low arrival numbers this year, there are positive indicators that the U.S. is progressing in restoring the USRAP pipeline and infrastructure, as measured by increased staff capacity and circuit rides.

The USRAP “pipeline” starts when an overseas refugee is referred to the U.S. for third-country resettlement and ends with their arrival in the United States. The refugee resettlement pipeline is extensive,  involving various government agencies, security organizations, and external partners. Once a refugee is referred to USRAP via this pipeline, the Department of State (DOS) reviews and approves the referral and then passes it on to overseas Refugee Support Centers (RSCs). RSC staff are critical in initiating biographical security checks and pre-screening referrals before a refugee’s interview with USCIS. As of December 2022, 200,000 refugee applicants were at various stages of this process. Calculating RSC hiring trends is difficult, but USRAP agencies did express the goal of increasing funding for RSC staffing overseas in 2022.

After RSC pre-screening, the next critical step is for USCIS Refugee Corps staff to interview each applicant to determine whether they meet the legal definition of a refugee. Teams of USCIS staff members travel abroad to conduct interviews with applicants during circuit rides. In addition to refugee and supervisory refugee officers, a circuit ride team may include other staff, like National Security officers and Fraud Detection staff. Once interviewed during the circuit ride, USCIS adjudicates the refugee applicant’s case. Those who meet the refugee definition are approved for further processing in the USRAP pipeline. 

USCIS has nearly doubled its number of employees in the Refugee Corps from 189 employees in FY2021 to 304 employees in FY2022. USCIS noted that Congress had appropriated 320 additional positions that, when filled, will lead to 650 USCIS staff supporting USRAP. In addition, the Refugee Corps traveled on more than five times the number of circuit rides in 2022 than in 2021 and conducted 44,000 interviews, quadrupling the number of interviews conducted in FY 2021. 

The trend of increasing circuit rides and interviews continues in FY 2023. In response to a letter authored by Senator Benjamin Cardin, USCIS stated it would deploy staff on 27 circuit rides in the first quarter. According to the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Assistant Secretary Noyes, USCIS conducted 20,000 interviews in the first quarter alone. If this pace of circuit rides and interviews continues, this could amount to 80,000 interviews in FY 2023. USRAP has yet to see interview numbers close to this since 2016. 

USCIS Hiring, Circuit Rides, and Interviews for USRAP

YearAuthorized Refugee Corps StaffUSCIS Circuit RidesUSCIS Interviews
2023 Q1n/a2720,000***

Data is sourced from FY 2020 Appropriations Reporting Requirement Refugee Data FY2016-FY2019 and the FY 2022 Appropriations Reporting Requirement Refugee Data FY 2018-FY 2021 Update and Inquiry from Senators. Information about Refugee Corps staffing pre-2016 was not readily available, though it is worth analyzing.

*Numbers sourced from the 2022 Appropriations Report. These numbers were previously higher but were “corrected to remove headquarters refugee officers, managers, and mission support.” Numbers now only include field-level refugee officers and first-line supervisory refugee officers in the Refugee Corps. 

**7 circuit rides were scheduled, but only one was completed before the pandemic led to circuit ride halts.

*** Number is taken from a department press briefing with DOS PRM Assistant Secretary Noyes

Increased hires in the Refugee Corps, circuit rides, and interviews indicate that USCIS has prioritized building its operational capacity to initiate increased refugee applicant entry into the USRAP pipeline. However, the initial USCIS interview is only one piece of an otherwise complex process. A critical complementary development is the launch of private sponsorship through Welcome Corps. 

Launching Private Sponsorship & Welcome Corps

In January, DOS launched a new private sponsorship program allowing 10,000 Americans to sponsor and welcome 5,000 refugees to the U.S. in FY2023. If more than 10,000 Americans participate, DOS stated it will pair additional refugees with sponsors. 

During the first week, 20,000 Americans signed up for more information about Welcome Corps, demonstrating significant widespread interest in personally welcoming refugees. Welcome Corps is intended to provide resettlement for refugees in addition to the vital work of traditional refugee resettlement agencies, not to replace it. Still, the Welcome Corps program’s success can give USRAP a much-needed boost.

Increasing PRM and USCIS Budgets

Though budget increases are a positive indicator of commitment to rebuilding USRAP, questions remain about how the agencies will use this money effectively. A review of the 2022 actual and 2023 anticipated budgets for DHS and DOS indicated planned expansion and capacity building of USRAP. The USCIS budget for FY2023 increased by $41.9 million, and PRM’s budget increased by over $400 million. In its presentation to Congress, PRM requested an additional $305.5 million to process refugee applications overseas, provide transportation to the U.S., and support initial reception and placement (R&P) services through refugee resettlement agencies. 

The total program budget in 2016 to resettle 85,000 refugees was $1.4 billion. $656 million of this total budget was allocated to PRM, and $50 million was allocated to USCIS. Adjusted for inflation, both PRM and USCIS have budgeted for more funding in 2023, indicating arrival numbers might be a lagging indicator of pipeline health. With budgets restored to similar levels conducive to 85,000 annual arrivals (FY 2016), we should see significant increases in refugee resettlement numbers towards the latter half of this year.

Source: Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2023

Streamlining the Process to Resolve Bottlenecks in Administrative Processing and Security Screenings

Though USCIS has increased Refugee Corps staffing and circuit rides, the initial interview with a USCIS refugee officer is only one step in a refugee’s journey through the complex USRAP pipeline to actual arrival in the U.S. With 44,000 interviews conducted by USCIS in 2022, we may still see a slow trickle of arrivals due to blockages elsewhere in the pipeline.

USCIS stated that as of the end of FY 2022, 103,000 applicants had undergone an initial interview with a USCIS refugee corps officer and were awaiting security checks, adjudicative action, or out-processing for travel. The graphic below is excerpted from USCIS’ response. Notably, only 27,100 refugee applicants had been fully approved by the end of FY2022, with 4,100 fully ready for departure. In addition, another 23,000 approved applicants were awaiting partner out-processing for travel. Out-processing for travel is conducted by overseas RSCs that schedule remaining medical exams and secure sponsorship from a U.S. resettlement agency before working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to schedule travel to the U.S. 

The high number of individuals in administrative and security clearance stages may be why we are only on pace to resettle fewer than 30,000 refugees in FY2023.

Source: USCIS

Note: Previous year data on USCIS-interviewed cases pending, disaggregated by stage, was not readily available, but is worth analyzing.

Seventy-four percent of applicants post-USCIS interview are awaiting adjudicative processing through USCIS, administrative processing through the assigned RSC, and security checks. Whether a bottleneck in this pipeline stage is typical remains to be seen due to a shortage of previous-year information. 

The administration reported that refugee vetting was integrated into the National Vetting Center to improve efficiency. Processing times at this stage are not readily available, though USCIS has indicated it is working to create more transparency by developing reports at various locations in the pipeline. 

USCIS has also expressed commitment to streamlining the process of refugee resettlement through data-informed pipeline management and piloting a method of scheduling USRAP pipeline tasks concurrently to reduce the time between stages.


The U.S. — historically a leader in global third-country refugee resettlement numbers — has faced five years of severe setbacks with record-low refugee arrivals. Though FY 2023 monthly arrivals are at a pace to again fall far short of presidential goals and historical totals, there are several indicators that the USRAP pipeline is being restored. 

USRAP agencies and partners must strive for operational efficiency in the adjudicative, administrative, and security vetting/processing stages to improve pipeline health and ensure vulnerable persons are not left for years in limbo. It will be essential to monitor the latter half of this year to see how refugee resettlement numbers trend.