Refugee and Asylee Immigration

In the latest data available (FY 2012), the U.S. gave permanent residence (“green cards”) to 87,663 foreigners for humanitarian reasons as refugees or asylees. The data are compiled informatively and exhaustively by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).  It notes grants of asylum were up 19% and refugee admissions were up 3%.

Two-thirds of those new residents entered as refugees and the rest received asylum status. MPI explains the difference between the two categories this way: “In the United States, the main difference between refugees and asylees is the location of the person at the time of application.” Refugees are identified overseas and invited to come to the United States. Asylees have come to the United States on their own and then ask to be able to stay.

But that explanation misses a major distinction between the two categories. Refugees are screened abroad on the basis of the international standard that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear persecution if forced to return to their homeland. In theory, the same standard applies to asylees, except in practice the criteria for offering protection are much broader when they are in the United States. An example is that Chinese are not invited to come as refugees because they are subject to the potentially abusive family planning policies of their government. But, if they are in the United States, they can make that claim and gain asylum. Similarly, persons suffering gender abuse abroad are not admitted as refugees, but if they are here they can gain asylum by making that claim. Another example of the dual standard is for women seeking protection against tribal circumcision rites.

The significance of the dual standard in the administration of humanitarian protection policy is that it creates both an incentive for foreigners to attempt to enter the United States through fraudulent application for a visa or through illegal entry, and it offers the alien the opportunity to abuse the hearings system for deciding on asylum claims by fabricating stories about past or future abuse.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar
    Capt. John Johnson on

    really?………FLorida is full of Cubans…………………….Somalis from the esat coast to the West, Muslims in Maine….YET the MExicanz work the hardest and they want to kick them out!!…………..

  2. avatar

    This is a perfect example of freeriding the American system and it is sad to watch. As a young student who is taking both a journalism and political science class this semester I’m beginning to see just how much money is be wasted in the government. It is good to help other people but with a weak economy and millions of illegals within the country already you would think we wouldn’t want to enable them. The more organizations and policies I hear about the more I can understand why we’re sitting on top of a massive pile of debt. Personally I feel this country needs to trim money from all the enabling organizations that are allowing millions of individuals to feel justified in not working or contributing to society, whether they are citizens or not. I wish I could help change this mess the country is in but for now all I can do is talk about it like millions of others who don’t hold a vote in congress or a mallet in the judicial system.

      • avatar

        Yeah, LEGAL Americans Are Gaming the System

        Paying into Social Security all their lives and expecting benefits from it…LOL….the IAs never paid into it and they want benefits anyway….apples and oranges…