You are viewing:


Information released online from January 20, 2009 to January 20, 2017.
Note: Content in this archive site is not updated, and links may not function. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Refugee Resettlement and the U.S. Refugee Admission Program

Larry Bartlett, Director of the Office of Refugee Admissions in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
New York, NY
November 3, 2015

Date: 11/03/2015 Location: New York, NY Description: Larry Bartlett, Director of the Office of Refugee Admissions in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration briefs journalists on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program at the New York Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image

3:00 P.M. EST


MS SHIE: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. My name is Monica Shie. I’m very happy today to have Larry Bartlett, the director of the Refugee Admissions Office of the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. That means that he leads State Department programs abroad and in the United States that identify, process, and receive refugees for permanent resettlement in the United States. So we’re happy to have him here, and I’ll turn it over to Mr. Larry Bartlett. Thank you.

MR BARTLETT: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to brief you a little bit on the U.S. program to resettle refugees from around the world. I know that many of you are from countries that also have resettlement programs or are involved with refugee assistance, so it’s really, I think, a good opportunity to share information about the U.S. program.

The U.S. has been a leader in refugee assistance and protection and resettlement for many, many years. It is a fundamental part of who we are as Americans but certainly a fundamental part of who we are as a government. The first immigrants to this country came, frankly, as refugees fleeing religious persecution, and many, many nationalities have followed them – people looking not just for a new life, a better life, but looking for a safe life. And so it’s really part of the fabric of our country that we welcome immigrants, and it’s really part of our belief system that we help people who are disadvantaged and give them an opportunity to not only be safe but also to make new lives for themselves.

So since 1975 the U.S. has welcomed over 3 million refugees. And these are people that we have brought from many, many countries. At the present time we’re bringing in refugees from more than 60 countries overseas, so it is a program with a very, very broad reach. It would be important to remember that there are about 20 million refugees in the world, so with the numbers that the U.S. brings every year – and last year we brought 70,000 refugees – and the number that other countries also bring to their countries, we can’t – we can’t make a huge dent and we’re certainly not the majority of a solution for a refugee crisis like is going on in Syria with 4 million refugees. But it’s an important symbolic effort to help some of the countries that are hosting refugees as well as the individuals themselves that we can bring to the United States.

The United States also plays a very large role in providing assistance overseas to refugees, and many of these people are people who will never, unfortunately, have the benefit of being resettled. So in the Syria context we are funding – we have funded since the beginning of the conflict more than $4.5 billion into the region, and this is helping refugees in places like Jordan and Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and northern Iraq to stay there, to remain in a safe place, to have food, to have shelter, to have some access to health care, so that they can wait for that time when they might be able to return home.

And we know that – I mean, the number one solution for a refugee is to be able to go home, and it’s really what they want. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible and it’s certainly not always possible at times of great conflict like we see in Syria. So we do look at how we can relieve some of the strain on some of these hosting countries, and I think Jordan is a good example, but also make a difference in the life of a refugee.

So again, last year we brought 70,000 refugees to the United States under our program. We have a network overseas of facilities. We have about nine different regional locations overseas where we work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose job it really is to identify refugees for protection and assistance and resettlement. We work closely with the UN to identify them, and then we begin to process them so that they might be, number one, interviewed to make sure that they actually have a refugee claim and then, number two, to start security and health screening to make sure that we can bring them safely to the United States.

Our process of screening refugees takes between 18 and 24 months. It is done in a very deliberate fashion. One of our primary concerns is to make sure that the – it is safe for the refugee to come to the United States and that they won’t bring any danger to a U.S. community. So the security screening system is extremely important. It involves a number of intelligence agencies as well as law enforcement agencies in the United States. We do individual interviews with each refugee family. We need to make sure that they are who they say they are. We need to make sure that the family composition is accurate and that there aren’t people trying to infiltrate the program. And we also do medical and health checks to make sure that people don’t have communicable diseases. If people do have a communicable disease, that is generally treated and then it just delays their arrival in the United States, but we still will bring them here.

And speaking about medical conditions, certainly one of the criteria that we look at when we are trying to bring a refugee to the United States is: How vulnerable are they? So we focus – we actually don’t focus on things like education levels or English language abilities. We focus on vulnerability. And so we’re really trying to help the people who are most in need of that help. So if people have a medical condition that may not be easily treated or may be very expensive in a country like Jordan, those are the types of people we would like to bring to the United States and provide them that care and then provide them, again, an opportunity to be in the United States and become a citizen.

The program works that this is a – we see this as a permanent opportunity for the refugee, so they do come here – they can work upon arrival. They can adjust status to a legal permanent resident after one year, and then they can apply for citizenship after five years. So this is a normal legal path not just to immigration but also to citizenship.

And what we offer on the program side is once a person arrives, we offer transitional assistance. That assistance generally goes for at least eight months but in some cases up to five years. The social welfare system in the United States is one where there is an expectation that people work if possible, and so the expectation for our refugee program is that they become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. So we provide tools through job training and job placement, English language training, helping kids enroll in school, providing access to health care, providing transitional housing so it’s short term, three to four months of rent. But then there is an expectation that the refugee finds a job, finds fulltime employment, and supports themselves. And the vast majority of refugees, frankly, are totally up to this challenge and do quite well. And again, we’ve been doing this since 1975 and have many, many success stories.

I think I would – it would be important to tell you we resettle refugees to 48 states, about 173 cities and towns. So again, a pretty vast network. And within those cities and towns we have over 300 sites, so places like Chicago and Atlanta have a number of sites within that city. We work with local agencies. These are mostly nongovernmental agencies who provide the initial support and the services to the refugee family. So they – before the refugee arrives they have to have found an apartment for them, they have to furnish the apartment, they have to provide some initial food. They meet the refugee at the airport, they bring them to the apartment, and then they provide counseling for the family to help them enroll the kids in school, get their health exams on the U.S. side, and then look for work.

And so again, this very kind of intensive case management and counseling for the refugee can take place usually up to eight months, at which time that we expect the refugee to become mostly self-sufficient.

The program – maybe the last thing I would say is this program is very dependent – I mean, although there is federal support and federal funding through both the State Department and Health and Human Services for the U.S. side of the program, it’s very important that we have community support. And so we work very hard to make sure that communities understand the program, to make sure that they realize kind of the attributes and the positive aspects that a refugee family can bring to a community. Refugees are very entrepreneurial. These are people who fled a country because they wanted something better and they were at risk, and again, most of them seize this opportunity. So they not only find jobs, but they become job owners or business owners, and so they actually employ people. They not only rent apartments but they become homeowners. And again, because they’re employed, they become taxpayers and eventually U.S. citizens and voters. So it’s a very mainstream-type program. We think it really does bring value to the community, but it really depends on the community to support the program and for volunteers within the community to really help that refugee make this transition.

So I think with that I would stop and try to answer any questions you may have.

MS SHIE: Thank you. I’m going to start with a question from a journalist who really wanted to come and couldn’t make it, and so he sent in a question. It’s Morten Bertelsen from Norway and this is his question: “Despite increasingly diverse origins, linguistic backgrounds, and education levels, a new report from Migration Policy Institute, MPI, finds most refugees in the United States integrate successfully over time. What are the secrets behind the success and what can European countries learn from the U.S. in this respect?”

MR BARTLETT: So this is an interesting question because – first of all, I should back up a little bit. So the United States, by resettling 70,000 refugees last year, we resettled more refugees than all other countries combined. And so we’re very proud of the size of our program, but we appreciate, frankly, that programs like – or countries like Norway and Sweden, Denmark, to name a few, per capita actually have very large programs. I mean, they’re much smaller countries population-wise, economy-wise. So they are a very important part of the system.

Some of the countries that have very small numbers of refugees they resettle have focused on certain groups. So Syrians right now are a big focus of many resettlement countries. Bhutanese were a focus maybe five years ago. The United States doesn’t have a focus. We actually will take a refugee from any country, and so we do have a lot of experience resettling a very diverse population of refugees. We’ve built up experience over time, and I think it’s important our local agencies every single year inform us as to which populations they think they can receive in their community. So our local agency has to have the language services for the refugee group that they want to resettle. So for a Syrian they would have to have Arabic speakers on their staff or access to Arabic translation services. So the language is one aspect of it.

Frankly, refugees themselves are the kind of the biggest success story of the program in a way, because they are the ones, frankly, who, no matter what the nationality, really seize this opportunity. So I think it’s a little bit of a misperception that a country can’t have a more diverse program, because I think the refugees themselves prove fairly easily that it’s not that hard for them to make this adjustment. I mean, if one goes to Norway, one has to learn Norwegian. A lot of Norwegians speak English, but I have it on good advice from some of my Norwegian friends that if you really want to find a good job in Norway, you really need to learn Norwegian. But it’s – the difference between a Somali learning Norwegian or a Syrian learning Norwegian may be not that great, right?

So I don’t think the nationality is such a big driver of how well a country can do. I think what’s more important is to look at the populations. So Congolese, for example, who’ve been traumatized and victimized, frankly, for many, many years both in the Congo as well as in some of the movement that they’ve been doing to get to a place where it’s safe like Tanzania, they need special types of services. They need mental health counseling. They need other types of perhaps medical services. But that’s not any different, frankly, than a Syrian who has also fled great trauma and been victimized through the fighting. So again, I think some of the services are similar even though the population might be different.

MS SHIE: Other questions.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Daisuke Nakai from Asahi Shimbun, Japan. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this briefing today. I’d like to ask a bit more about the admission process.


QUESTION: So for instance, 85,000 people for the next fiscal year. And do you have a quota per each country? How do you divide it up to each region? And also, how many admission – how many applications are there to get one of those seats and how many people get turned down through the screening process? Could you sort of run though those?

MR BARTLETT: Sure. So again, good questions. Seventy thousand was our target this last year, the year we just finished at the end of September, and we achieved it. Our target this year is 85,000. Our target next year is intended to be 100,000. So we are definitely in a very big growth mode. We – frankly, because we have a worldwide system, we work very closely with the UN to identify refugees on a worldwide basis. We know where the large populations of refugees are. They used to be in Nepal because of the Bhutanese – over 100,000. That program has largely been concluded. So there’ll still be some Bhutanese leaving Nepal, but it has wound down, frankly, because most of the Bhutanese have been resettled. The Burmese in Malaysia and Thailand, similar story. There are still Burmese in those two countries, but the program that was designed for them has largely been accomplished – not entirely, but largely.

So we look around the world to see with Syrians 4 million refugees outside of the country, so we know, and frankly, people still flee every single day. So we know that that is part of our future. Iraqis – still many, many hundreds of thousands and millions of Iraqis. And so again, that will continue to be a focus for the U.S. program. But Congolese, again, a very large population. There is a very large camp in Tanzania that we’re going to be working from for the next five or six years, but also Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda. Those are all countries that are hosting many Congolese. Somalis – there is a large diaspora of Somalis not just in Africa but in other parts of the world. So again, that will also be one of our focal points in terms of nationalities, but the most important thing is we work with the UN to identify people who are the most vulnerable. And so we might get small numbers in West Africa from kind of nontraditional countries. We get refugees who come to Morocco and claim they’re looking for protection, they’re looking for asylum. Morocco isn’t really a country of resettlement, so the UN might refer some cases to us from Morocco.

Some of the numbers are small but people with very special needs, so for example, LGBT refugees. These are people, frankly, in many countries that are simply unwelcome, and they’re not only unwelcome in the country they fled from but they’re unwelcome and I think face protection concerns in a country of first asylum. So we have very special interest in like an LGBT refugee or some women at risk. So again, we’ll pick up small numbers in some countries and some of them will be larger.

I can’t remember – I think there was another part of your question.

QUESTION: Well, how many applications to get into the (inaudible)?

MR BARTLETT: So we have – so first of all, people don’t apply for resettlement. It is something that the UN frankly identifies for them and then makes sure that they are interested. So it’s very difficult to raise your hand and get into a resettlement program anywhere in the world, because we put that responsibility on the UN. There – we have probably 200,000 people in our system right now who – in order to get 85,000 in this year, many of them will have to make it through. But we are – we’re actually operating this program on a continuing basis, so every week, frankly, we’re getting new referrals and every week we’re putting people on planes. So we – this is very much continuous. It has – it doesn’t have an annual cutoff point and then a restart point. So it – we just try to operate this as consistently as we can.

QUESTION: And with the security check, how many people get turned down there (inaudible)?

MR BARTLETT: So the security check – I don’t have a figure, but I can tell you some populations it might be 25 percent; it might be lower – I mean in terms of – 25 percent might get denied, but a lot of other populations it might be more like 10 percent or 5 percent or 0 percent. So that really is dependent on the population and perhaps the country.

But it’s not just the security check. It’s also the refugee interview that takes place. So part of our process requires that the Department of Homeland Security conducts a face-to-face interview with each refugee. And so part of that is to make sure that their refugee claim is valid and part of it is to make sure that they’re admissible. So if people have military experience in some of the countries we’re talking about – Syria’s a good example; Iraq another – we need to make sure that their military experience doesn’t prevent them under U.S. law from coming to the U.S.

So if they have been a persecutor of others, if they have participated in some bad military campaign during a time of a previous regime – and we’ll say Saddam Hussein in this example – that would disqualify for them from coming to the United States as a refugee. Even if they might have a claim now, their past acts would disqualify them from arriving. Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m an Afghan journalist from Afghanistan. With the – so we heard announcement of the SIVs.


QUESTION: It is the special immigrant visas for those Afghan individuals who work for U.S. troops or the USAID. The Kabul embassy – U.S. Embassy in Kabul – I also met many refugees who came to the United States also. My question has two parts. How many SIVs are in the USA and how many more are expected here? And also the other part is – like you stated, that we only help the vulnerable people. But these refugees have – I have talked to them. I have friends also. They have to spend thousands of money for buying tickets and also for their medical examinations. They have to pay from their own pocket. So when they come back here, then they have to pay back to the U.S. Government. So do you think that this is kind of a – those people are (inaudible) socially vulnerable to – like you said – thank you.

MR BARTLETT: Right. So there are a couple questions in there. I’ll try to sort them out a bit.

So we have two different programs. One is a refugee resettlement program, which I am the director for the State Department of. There’s also the special immigrant visa program, and this was – these were two different programs, frankly. One was set up in Iraq, one was set up in Afghanistan, and those were for people who had worked with the U.S. military but also with the U.S. embassy, with USAID, with other U.S. Government contractors into both of those countries.

So the special immigrant visa program is one that’s operated by a separate part of the Department of State, so I don’t actually have the number for you of the number that we will resettle or that we have already brought here. But I can tell you the program in Iraq has largely concluded. There are still people within the program who are being processed, but their – the application period for that program has ended. The program in Afghanistan has not ended, and I know they are still accepting applications.

It’s definitely a responsibility of the Department of State and of this Administration to help those Afghans who have helped us, and so that’s an important program. The SIVs are eligible for refugee benefits so they can elect to have the same kind of support once they arrive, so we can find a place in the United States for them, we can rent an apartment on a temporary basis, we can provide this transitional employment support to them. But just like a refugee, the expectation is they will become self-sufficient.

One part of our program that you brought up which is important to note is that when a refugee comes here, we fund all of this transitional support, but the one part that we don’t fully fund is their transportation. So we do provide the transportation funding up front, and that’s through the International Organization for Migration. But we – that is granted as a loan, and so people are expected to pay that funding back. And they have a period of time and they don’t have to start paying immediately, but they are expected to pay – make monthly payments to that loan. And the good news is over the – it takes about 8 to 10 years sometimes to repay those loans, but we have about an 80 percent repayment rate, and that money goes back into the program and it helps future refugees to be able to take advantage of this program.

MS SHIE: We’ll take one more question in New York and then we’ll go over to Washington.

STAFF: Hold on one second.

QUESTION: How did you arrive at the --

STAFF: State your name and media affiliation.

QUESTION: I’m Karthikeyan from the Times of India. How did you arrive at the targets of 85,000? Is it purely budgetary, or like – what are the reasons for having – because U.S. is a large country, and even though the numbers are large, it feels small compared to the geography.

MR BARTLETT: Okay. So we – every year we go through a planning process to see partly what our capacity is, both within our systems overseas as well as within our systems on the U.S. side, to see how many people we think we can responsibly resettle. So yes, the United States is a large country. It is vast. But we understand also that refugees need support – they need specialized support to be able to make this difficult transition, because again, it’s not just a new culture, but people are coming from places of trauma. So we need to make sure that we can provide them the services to have as – I’ll say as soft a landing, as kind of positive a landing as possible and make this transition. So we do the planning process every year. Every summer we are in that planning. In the month of September, generally, there is an agreement made in Washington, and the President is the one who actually authorizes and sets the final number.

So one of the things that was important this summer was making sure that we respond to the crisis in Syria. Over half of the people in Syria are displaced, and so being part of an international effort, both pragmatically in terms of real numbers but I think also kind of politically in terms of demonstrating U.S. leadership – it was important to also raise the number. And so we raised the number to 85,000 this year with an intended target of 100,000. But we also declared that we would resettle 10,000 Syrians this year. So within the 85,000, 10,000 of them should be Syrians. And so we are right now – because this target was announced fairly late in the summer, we are still now planning on how to accomplish that, but we very much intend to do that.

MS SHIE: Next question from Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, first of all. And could you say something about the local agencies that are responsible in the end to integrate the refugees – excuse me. My name is Marcus Pinder. I work for the German national public radio. Sorry about that. Could you say something about the local agencies? Is there something like a standard catalog of services they have to provide that you measure them against? And what services are truly essential? What do you think is really, really badly necessary? Thank you.

MR BARTLETT: Sure. So again, I think one of the – one of the kind of positive attributes of our program is that we do very much have this nongovernmental community – I won’t call it sponsorship, but partnership. And so again – and frankly, a lot of countries, I think, in Europe run their programs from a very federal level. And so I think, again, as people are upscaling their own programs, we think we have some things that we can share about how to run a large-scale program.

So we have nine – at the present time we have nine national partners. These are nongovernmental organizations. Six of them are faith-based, so affiliated with churches or synagogues. Three of them are secular. None of them are allowed to proselytize, so even if you are a church-based organization, the program is without bias in terms of religion. It’s also without bias in terms of who you are expected to resettle.

So they operate very much at the local level, so these nine agencies – some of them are headquartered here in New York, have local affiliates. Some of them are owned. The International Rescue Committee is one where they actually – their local affiliates are actually kind of owned and operated by IRC New York. Others are simply affiliated with this national structure. But the responsibility – when the State Department funds those nine agencies, the responsibility lies with the headquarter organization. So we require the headquarters to provide a certain basket of services with State Department funding, and they are responsible for making sure their local affiliates provide those services.

So from the State Department funding side, housing, initial housing – it has to be available on arrival. And we monitor these things. Furnishing – a certain standard of furnishing must be provided. Much of this is donated, and they get donations locally, but again, there has to be furnishing. There has to be initial food that’s provided, and then also people have to be signed up for food stamps, which is one of the benefits that refugees can receive. We also – people have to register for a Social Security number. People have to have a medical exam upon arrival. If they have children, they have to be registered in school. And then we expect a community orientation to take place so that refugees understand how the community works, how public transport works, because people usually can’t afford to buy a car. And then help in finding employment.

The State Department’s role really only lasts up to 90 days. But Health and Human Services – so one of our other departments – has a responsibility through the first eight months. And their programs are much more focused on specific skills – so employment, job training; English language training; some employment opportunities that are provided directly by an affiliate. There are programs to help women who are – whose husband is – maybe been killed, and so they are a single – they are a female-headed household. There are programs that are targeted for them. There are mental health programs as well. So a lot of those programs come through Health and Human Services and really help anchor that refugee and help them make this transition.

Both of us monitor our programs to make sure that all of those requirements are being fulfilled by those agencies, and then we work closely with the community to see what else we might be able to do.

You’re welcome.

QUESTION: Thanks very much for the briefing. James Reinl with Al Jazeera. It’s a slightly piecemeal question. First question: What proportion of your refugees take citizenship? And you mentioned there being various security checks to ensure that people with – people that will do America harm aren’t able to get in. Have there been any instances of people slipping through the nets? What have they gone on to do, and what lessons has your organization learned about how to conduct tests in the future?

MR BARTLETT: Okay, well, the first part of that question is really easy because I don’t have the figures on citizenship. But I think I’ll ask my colleagues here at the Foreign Press Center to see if we can get you something in the future on that. That’s tracked by a totally different agency.

The security question is a good one, because we know that this program has risk. I mean, there is no immigration program, frankly, that doesn’t have risk. And one of our responsibilities in Washington is to make sure that we mitigate those as much as possible. And so, again, the world that we have now is more confusing and a little messier. And I think the challenges probably are elevated because of that. But having said that, we have a number of intelligence agencies that are working full-time to see how to mitigate those risks. So have people been admitted – yes – who were a risk?

There were two Iraqis, I think famously, that – in Kentucky who were arrested in a FBI sting operation, who were both charged and convicted as terrorists. And so that was a vulnerability. Because of that, frankly, a new check was developed and then I think refined so that we could try to mitigate some of the risk that we found from those two cases for future refugees. And I have to say it’s one of the – it’s probably the most serious part of the program, is making sure that we have done everything we can to prevent somebody from exploiting this program. And there are, again, a number of agencies in Washington who work on this, a number of intelligence agencies that continue to see is there more that can be done.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Bartlett, please clarify the numbers that you announced and then presented today – 70, 85, 100,000 of refugees. Just in most of European languages, “refugee” and “asylum” – it’s the same. So the real number of immigrants that are real, frankly speaking – refugees are greater. So for how much?

MR BARTLETT: So yeah. So Europe right now has a huge challenge with asylum seekers. And these are people who are crossing land borders and asking for asylum under international law. The U.S. also has an asylum program. We have people crossing our southwest border for the most part, but we have people who arrive on planes, people who might be going to school here, who then would claim asylum. And there is a system in the United States to both claim asylum and to have that decision reviewed. So that’s a separate program. Our asylum issues are much smaller than Europe frankly has today. And part of that is just a matter of geography.

On the refugee side, Europe – many European countries have resettlement programs. And again, Sweden, Denmark, Germany has been doing quite a bit over the last year with Syrians through not a formal refugee program, but frankly still serving some of the same population. So there – it is – they are separate programs, and we recognize that Europe right now is – has a huge burden, if you will. It’s certainly a huge challenge with the number of asylum seekers they have.

MS SHIE: Let’s take the next question from Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Yes, hello. This is Beat Soltermann from Swiss Radio. Thank you very much for doing that. I’m just back from a reporting trip from upstate South Carolina. And as you well know, there is a lot of resistance and doubt and skepticism over there. And I was just curious, how many refugees from Syria have been settled there so far in this area? And how many more will be settled in the next time? That’s my first question.

And the second question is: How much leeway do those private organizations have to settle, for instance, some refugees that were supposed to go to Spartanburg in a different area or in a different state?

MR BARTLETT: That’s a good question. The – I think what’s interesting – I was in Spartanburg this summer, frankly, with Anne Richard, my boss, to talk to the community, to understand some of the concerns that were being expressed in Spartanburg. This program is not without its critics, and I think it would be unfair to say that it is universally loved, but I think it is fair to say the majority – the vast, vast majority of Americans appreciate this program and support it.

So in Spartanburg, South Carolina, there’s a fairly small group but a fairly vocal group of people who are concerned about refugees. They’re concerned that refugees may change the character of the community, but I think they are more concerned that they might provide some security risk. They’re concerned that Syrians might provide that security risk. Well, up to this point, no Syrians have been resettled to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and there isn’t a plan that any will be resettled this year.

What’s interesting about the story – the situation in Spartanburg is Spartanburg has actually been resettling refugees for many, many years, and they were being resettled from another site in the state, Columbia. And everything was quiet until we decided to open a new site in Spartanburg, at which point people – some people became concerned that refugees would be coming to their community. But when we went down there, we had this discussion and said, “But people have been coming here for years and there haven’t been any problems. And the fact that you might have Muslims here, which you do, hasn’t created any problems.”

I mean, this is – this is, frankly, what America is. We are a multiethnic country that enjoys and appreciates religious freedom. And so whether we bring a Christian here or a Muslim doesn’t matter. And so Spartanburg, frankly, to me is a great success story. But again, we have – we still have work to do to educate some of the people in Spartanburg so that they understand really what a success story that is.

Did – well, okay, I was going to – that’s fine.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m Harriet Alexander from the Daily Telegraph. Maybe this is – maybe this is just sort of with a European prism that I’m looking at this, but it seems to me very much that the overwhelming number of refugees at the moment, the most pressing issue would be Syrians. And so I just wondered whether you could explain a little bit more why, out of the 85,000, only 10,000 of those are going to be Syrian given that it seems that that is overwhelmingly where the demand lies. Is that because it’s the UN saying that to you or is that a State Department decision?

MR BARTLETT: So the State Department decision – the Administration decision, frankly, White House, to do 10,000 is partly based on our ability and kind of where we are with that population. The Syria crisis has been going on now for about five years, but this has only been a population of resettlement for about the last two. So again, normally, people wait to try to go home, and that’s something that the UN promotes and tries to respect. Again, the population would rather stay in Turkey for the most part. That’s not the case today.

So about two years ago, the UN high commissioner for refugees said this is a top priority, we must help these countries like Turkey, and we must take some – we must give them some relief, we must begin resettling them. So we joined a number of countries – about 26 countries – in an international effort to resettle Syrians. Germany stepped up huge from day one, and they found a very quick pathway to get people into Germany.

Our pathway is not quick. We don’t have a lot of other devices that we can utilize. We still need to go through all of the individual interviews and all the individual security screenings. So we have been a little bit slower in terms of numbers, but we are now building. So we did about 1,700 arrivals last year of Syrians. We expect to do 10,000 this year that we’re in now, and we expect that number will be higher next year. We don’t actually have a target for next year, but we do expect that number to be higher. And that’s, frankly, just an element of how long it takes us to grow the program.

But we also, frankly, don’t want to leave other populations behind. So a Congolese refugee who might have been sitting in a camp for 10 to 15 years in Africa frankly deserves as much of a shot at a new life as a Syrian who’s sitting – been sitting in Turkey for three or four years. So we want to, again, try to have kind of an international response that still makes sense.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, I’m Celia Mendoza from VOA Latin America. And how your office handle refugee cases where we’re talking about unaccompanied minors? Either they come to the United States or they’re trying to come from other places. We know there is a large number coming now to Europe and to Sicily and to Greece. When you don’t have a connection with an adult, who applies for them, how that works? And then would that transfer to the problem the United States had a year ago with minors coming through the border? Will they be considered refugees at one point or another, or it is a different process?

MR BARTLETT: Sure, so – that’s a complex question, so a couple things: One, yes, there are minors who are moving throughout the world without adults. And so the U.S. has a program, actually, and we work very closely with the UN to resettle a very small number of those minors, so – I think last year, just about 300, so again, a small number given the 70,000 that we resettled.

But this is a very particular caseload. These are people – number one, the obligation of the UN is to try to find their families, first and foremost. These are – rarely are they orphans, so these are people who – Eritreans, for example, who have fled into Ethiopia or farther, fleeing persecution, fleeing military conscription, and can qualify as refugees. But again, part of the obligation is not to break families apart; it’s to bring families back together. So again, that’s part of the UN’s responsibility and we certainly respect that.

So we have one of the only programs in the world where we actually bring unaccompanied minors as refugees to our country and then settle them, so again – and it’s a very – it’s kind of an intensive program, because people need to be put in a foster care system, they need to be linked up with a U.S. family, they need to be given special services. So we do have that program.

We do have a program in Central America now that we started over the last year partly in response to the number of minors coming across the southwest border through an irregular pattern. And so we have a program for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to help, again, minors, children, who are there who might have a parent in the U.S. who has a form of legal status. They don’t have to be citizens; there are a number of statuses they could also hold and they can make an application for their child in Central America to join them. And that’s really, in a way, to prevent people from making a very dangerous journey across Mexico and to the southwest border. So we’re trying to preempt that and find a more regular and legal pathway for those minors.

MS SHIE: We’ll take one more from New York and then we’ll go over to Washington, D.C.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Bartlett. I have a follow-up for my colleague question about the citizenship. If those refugees – if they don’t have a citizenship of the U.S., what is their status in the country? Do they have the green card, or what is it? And the second question, if you allow, those 70,000 refugees from last year and 100,000 for the next year that you are planning to resettle – these are people from – that you picked from the UNHR list. How many – in general, how many people came to the U.S. last year, legally or illegally, and asked for the asylum for different reasons?

MR BARTLETT: Okay. So a bunch of questions there. Sorry, what was the first one? Sorry, just to go back.

QUESTION: Citizenship and the status.

MR BARTLETT: So what happens is when a refugee arrives, for the first year they are still seen as a refugee, okay. So they are allowed to work and they have access to government support as if they were a legal permanent resident, as if they were a green card holder, but they’re not, okay. So they don’t have that green card status until after the first year. After the first year, they are expected to adjust status to legal permanent resident. So at that point they become a green card holder. They may stay in that status as long as they want. They can stay in the United States as a legal permanent resident. They can enjoy all the benefits of a legal permanent resident, but certainly not the benefits of a U.S. citizen.

They are eligible to apply for citizenship after five years. And again, just like anybody else who’s been here for five years and been an LPR, they would have to take the test and they would have to go through, if any, additional security screening or verification needed to take place, they would go through that. But otherwise they can stay here permanently; this is their new home.

QUESTION: How many people in general ask for asylum?

MR BARTLETT: So I don’t have the asylum numbers, frankly. And again, I think that’s something that we can provide back to you. The asylum situation in the United States is a little complicated right now because there are a number of people who request asylum, but until those cases are actually adjudicated, until they’re heard in court, until they are reviewed by a U.S. Government official, people would not get asylum status, and right now there’s a backlog in the asylum process. So we can, again, give you some number on that.

MS SHIE: Let’s go to Washington, D.C.

QUESTION: Thank you. Similar question to some of the ones – oh, Leandra Bernstein with Sputnik International News. Similar questions to the ones that have already been asked. I’m just having difficulty understanding how the United States is the top – the number one refugee re-settler in the world, yet other countries have millions of refugees coming just from Syria, hundreds of thousands coming from Syria specifically, but 70,000 puts the United States at the top. I’m not understanding that.

And then I have just a second question about – isn’t it the case that there are much easier ways to get the United States, get citizenship, rather than the slower, seemingly more arduous task of going through the refugee system?

MR BARTLETT: Okay. So the first question, great question. Again, we’re talking about two different streams of people. And so there’s – first of all, there’s refugee hosting countries – Turkey would be a good example, Jordan, great example – where you’ve got a couple million, I think, refugees now in Turkey. So they’re a hosting country, but they have not agreed to resettle refugees. They’ve not agreed that Syrians can become Turkish citizens or agreed that they can have full access to services of that government. So clearly, the international community owes Turkey a lot in terms of gratitude for what they are doing on a temporary basis for people, but that is not a permanent solution for a refugee. Many countries simply do not have the infrastructure to absorb large numbers of people; we know that.

Then the next piece of it is the next country of asylum – so people have fled Turkey, they have crossed through Greece, and they have made their way to places like Germany or Sweden, some places in between. Many of those countries in Europe are offering asylum on a temporary basis. Some of them, I believe, will become permanent. But I think country by country it may be different. And I know that the discussion in Europe is still ongoing about what will the status of these people be.

So – and then there’s the third type of program, which I’m here to talk about today, which is one where we resettle people from a country of first asylum, so a country like Turkey. We have an operation in Istanbul and we are resettling people directly from Turkey. Sweden is settling people directly from Turkey, so they have a similar program to ours. Their number that they affirmatively resettle is very small. The number that are coming across their borders that they are giving temporary protection to is very large.

So again, we don’t discount that other countries are sharing an enormous responsibility. These are just different types of programs. And I think there was a second part of the question, but I’m not sure if the speaker wants to come back to the podium, because I want to make sure I answer that question too.

MS SHIE: Washington, D.C., did you want to – okay.

QUESTION: Just that it seems that the refugee resettlement program is very long and arduous and there are easier ways to get citizenship than an in-country interview and all the steps.

MR BARTLETT: So I think for a refugee there is not an easier way, and I don’t think there’s another way to enter the United States. I mean, if people have a family member here, a certain direct relationship with an American citizen, that American citizen can apply for them. But the immigration queue for some nationalities is, in fact, quite long. So for – frankly, for a refugee, there really isn’t another opportunity, I think, to come here. So even though the process takes 18 to 24 months, it is probably their only opportunity to enter the United States and gain kind of full access to citizenship.

MS SHIE: Other questions? Okay. In that case, thank you so much to Mr. Bartlett for coming. And thank you to all of you.

# # #