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One Year After Biden Signed Order to Restore Refugee Program, Progress Has Fallen Short


February 4, 2022


Spencer Tilger



IRAP Calls on Biden Administration to Implement Roadmap Outlined in Executive Order

(New York, NY) One year ago today, newly-inaugurated President Biden signed an executive order (EO) to build back and strengthen the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The EO outlined a path to enhance refugees’ access to protection in the United States and improve the efficiency and equity of the refugee resettlement process. The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) applauded the EO when it was signed, but now warns that little progress has been made to carry out its goals. 

Below are IRAP’s evaluations of the administration’s progress on key reforms outlined in the EO:

  1. Refugee Resettlement: The EO mandated a review of the refugee resettlement program to remove unfair vetting processes, improve procedural protections for refugees, and increase efficiency and transparency. While the Biden administration officially rescinded numerous policies designed by the Trump administration to dismantle refugee resettlement, few structural improvements have been made to the program and the public has yet to see a review. Meanwhile, refugees and their families, especially those from Muslim-majority countries, continue to suffer the effects of these policies as they wait indefinitely for resettlement.
  2. Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs): The EO ordered a review of the SIV program to address delays and obstacles in processing. While some progress was made before the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, the chaotic evacuation of Afghan allies left hundreds of thousands of at-risk Afghans behind, including tens of thousands of SIV applicants, with no clear path to safety.
  3. Climate: The Biden administration published a report in October 2021 on the impact of climate change on migration ordered by the EO. However, little progress has been made to act on the report’s recommendations to protect and resettle climate displaced people, including the creation and convening of an interagency working group on climate change and migration.
  4. Private Sponsorship: The EO directed government agencies to explore the expansion of community sponsorship of refugees, and in late 2021 the administration launched the Sponsor Circle program for Afghans, which utilizes aspects of private sponsorship to increase U.S. capacity to resettle newly-arrived Afghans into communities. While this is a positive first step, IRAP looks forward to the administration launching a private sponsorship program this year. 

IRAP Policy Director, Sunil Varghese, said:

“While a year ago the Biden administration set forth an ambitious and necessary plan to restore refugee resettlement to the United States, the alarming truth is that many promises have gone unfulfilled. Meeting the mandate of the executive order is pivotal to restoring the United States’ commitment to welcome refugees under this administration and far into the future. As of today, these goals are out of reach and the Biden administration is running out of time.”

IRAP Climate Displacement Strategist, Ama Francis, said:

“The White House report on climate change and migration highlighted the urgency of expanding current protections and creating new legal pathways to safety for climate displaced people. However, no progress has been made to implement those recommendations. The administration should follow the advice of its own policy experts and take real action to protect climate-displaced people.”

IRAP Private Sponsorship Program Director, Elizabeth Foydel, said:

“Private sponsorship would increase safe pathways for refugees to the United States in addition and complementary to the traditional resettlement model. Such a program would also direct the engagement of American communities in refugee resettlement by allowing groups of individuals and organizations to sponsor refugees. The Biden administration should launch a pilot private sponsorship program for refugees in 2022 and make such a program permanent next year.”

Additional Resources

  • Read IRAP’s January 2022 report, “Rebuilding the U.S. Refugee Program for the Future: 22 Recommendations for 2022” HERE
  • Read IRAP’s November 2021 report, “Fulfilling America’s Promise: Options to Make U.S. Humanitarian Protection Pathways Viable for At-Risk Afghans: HERE
  • Read IRAP’s August 2021 report, “U.S. Opportunities to Address Climate Displacement” HERE
  • Read IRAP’s October 2020 (Updated June 2021) report, “Debunking ‘Extreme Vetting’: Recommendations to Build Back the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program” HERE
  • Read IRAP’s March 2021 report, “Families in Limbo: What the Biden Administration Can Do Now to Address Unreasonable Delays in Refugee and Asylee Family Reunification” HERE