In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, a lot of information has been published and shared on both traditional and social media about the movement and acceptance of refugees. Much of the information shared has not been based on facts or credible data. The purpose of this article is to answer 13 contentious and commonly posed questions about refugees in America, using data from credible sources such as the US Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and the US Department of State.
Here are the 13 questions we will attempt to answer:
1. How many refugees come to the US every year?
Over the last 10 years, the average number of refugees settling in the US has been about 60k. In the past 3 years it has been around 70k. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For FY 2016, the US government has proposed that the ceiling be increased to 85k.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/0a3d2ae7-a276-49eb-a44a-1d6d06c0459c-2.png" alt="[Chart] How many refugees settle in the US every year?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
2. How does the number of refugees compare to other types of immigrants?
Is 70k or 85k refugees a lot compared to other groups of people coming to the US, permanently or otherwise? No. Refugees make up a small percentage of immigrants and visitors who enter the US every year. In fact, in 2013, there were over 48M people who entered the country as tourists alone.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/979e5b09-ba10-4c3a-9896-1d76d9fdadf1-5.png" alt="[Infographic] Refugees vs Tourists"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
In fact, to put it as a percentage, refugees don’t even come close to 0.1% of the total admissions into the country (including all nonimmigrant admissions such as tourists, business visitors, exchange visitors, students, diplomats, etc). It’s barely a drop in a bucket. Incidentally, there are more immigrants who entered the county as “Unknown” than refugees. These proportions have stayed relatively the same over the past 10 years. A full table of immigration statistics can be viewed here.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/954b1f4b-e7d5-4ef1-bd5b-577e0221ba42-4.png" alt="[Chart] How do refugees compare to other types of immigrants?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
3. Where do refugees come from?
Refugees are usually from countries that are at war or are being persecuted. We looked at data spanning 10 years (2004 – 2013) and mapped out the number of refugees hailing from each country in the map below.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/e91f56ed-7a2f-4eee-a743-d0ea891e34af.png" alt="[Map] Where do refugees come from?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
What are the countries that spurred the largest number of refugees in the last 10 years? The three countries with the largest number of refugees hailing from them were Burma (118,476), Iraq (93,788) and Bhutan (70,341). Below is chart of the top 20 countries that refugees hailed from.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/fb88ac48-643f-4604-a13d-6fe9cb8a2201-2.png" alt="[Chart] Where do Refugees come from?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
4. How many refugees come from Syria?
Between 2004 and 2013 there were only a total of 221 refugees from Syria. In 2014, Syrian refugees numbered only 132. For 2015 and 2016, the estimated numbers for Syrian refugees are 1,800 and 10,000, respectively.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/9478fad8-4ad4-43b3-8861-712160f9c5e7.png" alt="[Infographic] How many refugees come from Syria"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
5. How many refugees are Muslim?
Edited: Jeremy Singer-Vine from Buzzfeed has corrected my earlier assertion about not being able to find refugee data on religion. Turns out I was just bad at looking. I’ve used the data from Buzzfeed’s Github repo that contains cleaned up datasets to update the chart below:
From 2005 – 2015, the percentage of Muslim refugees were 31%. For the last 3 years, there have been a slightly higher percentage of Muslims, at around 40%.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/d28f2d5f-cf0a-401f-9e5a-edd3ed113fb2-1.png" alt="[Chart] How Many Refugees are Muslim?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
6. How will accepting refugees change the population of Muslims in the US?
Will accepting Muslim refugees increase the population of Muslims in the United States in the short term? Is there any truth that Muslim refugees will be the start of the “Islamization of the West“? While these concerns are more common in Europe, it is interesting to view this within an American context.
As described in question #2, the yearly refugee population in the US is around 70k-80k. If we use our estimate from the previous question–where 40% of refugees (from the last 3 years) are from Muslim –then the number of Muslim refugees comes out to around 28k – 32k a year. How does this impact the total population of Muslims in the US? According to the Pew Research Center, the Muslim population in the US in 2014 was about 0.9% (around 2.9M people). The addition of around 30k Muslim refugees would increase the Muslim population in the US slightly, but would still maintain a Muslim population of around 0.9% in the short term. However, if current immigration trends and birthrates continue, the Pew Research Center predicts that the Muslim population will double to 2.1% by year 2050 (though still a very small part of the entire population).
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/749bf44e-16df-4bcd-9de1-49162b5170e1.png" alt="[Chart] How will refugees change the Muslim population?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
7. Where do refugees settle?
Where do refugees end up after entering the US? Refugees are resettled in almost every state in the country. The Office of Refugee Resettlement publishes yearly tables of refugee counts by country of origin and which state they settled in. The map below visualizes the total number of refugees to the US over the last three years (2012 – 2014) and where they settled. Texas and California received the most refugees, followed by Michigan, Florida and North Carolina.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/0bf57812-0a1a-494d-af48-1b34076cf30d-2.png" alt="[Chart] Where do refugees settle?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
8. What is the impact of states opposing refugee settlement on the refugee population?
Recently, 31 state governors have stated their opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Political posturing aside, the impact of this would be significant. These 31 states settled about 68% of all refugees in the last 3 years (2012 – 2014).
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/b3322adb-0cc5-4828-8447-773ce8a2c234-2.png" alt="[Map] How many refugees have the 31 states refusing refugees settled?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
The only consolation for this is that the top destination for Syrian refugees in the last three years has been California, which isn’t one of the states that have opposed Syrian resettlement.
9. What is the demographic makeup of refugees?
The ceilings set by the US government includes principal applicants, their spouses and their children. A common mistake that people make is thinking that the proposed number of refugees only take into account the principal applicants.
For example, in 2013, there were 69,909 total refugees, of which 31,698 were principal applicants, 11,278 were spouses, and 26,933 were children. That means that more than half of refugees are children and spouses. The proportions were similar when we aggregated the last three years of available data (2011 – 2013) and visualized it below.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/ecdacb3f-a0cf-4828-9084-61203b80ddf3-2.png" alt="[Chart] What is the makeup of refugees?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
10. How many refugees are “young single males”?
Many politicians have cited the fear of young single male terrorists among refugees entering the country. Ben Carson, a republican candidate for presidency, claimed in an interview with CNN “the majority of [refugees] are young males.” We have already dispelled this claim in question #9 and found that the majority of refugees accepted are, in fact, children and spouses.
What about the principal applicants? How many of them are what the media calls unattached singles (singles that are not part of a family)? To look at this we broke down the numbers for the principal applicants by their marital status. Unattached singles (or single principal applicants) account for 19% of the total refugee population.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/b65b5334-c9e6-4fd9-9941-2d4f598aa45a-1.png" alt="[Infographic] How many refugees are unattached singles?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
But what is the demographic makeup of Syrian refugees, specifically? The UNHCR keeps up to date data on registered refugees from Syria (these are the same refugees that are referred to the US for resettlement). From the UNHCR, we can see that males between the ages of 18 and 54 make up only 22% of the total Syrian refugee population.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/15fd4a97-b1d3-436c-9e81-082f45860591.png" alt="[Chart] Syrian Refugees Demographic"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
11. How many refugees have been arrested for terrorist activities?
Do refugees pose a threat to the US? Buzzfeed News recently did an analysis on terrorism in America with 5 excellent charts and came to the conclusion that acts of violent extremism in the US were mainly perpetrated by citizens.
Nevertheless, there have been some refugees who have been charged with plotting or funding acts of terror. Michelle Ye’s piece in the Washington Post cites various credible sources for this data, including the Migration Policy Institute and the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. According to the Migration Policy Institution, out of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the US in the last 14 years, only three have been charged for terrorist activities. This number is higher in other sources; according to New America, there have been 10 refugees charged for terrorism in the last 14 years. At the RAND Corporation’s testimony to Congress, Seth Jones, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center, also lists 10 cases of refugees arrested for terrorist activities.
It is worth noting, though, that Jones’ list includes the two Boston bombers, who are technically not refugees but asylum-seekers who came to the country on visas and then applied for asylum. We have removed them from our chart below to be consistent with other sources.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/b09f82a8-cbe9-4e3c-8c22-489bc08991c7.png" alt="[Chart] How many refugees have been arrested for terrorism?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
12. How much does refugee resettlement cost the federal government?
The US federal government estimates that it will spend about $1.1 billion in 2015 on refugee processing and resettlement. For 2016, the estimated spending is about $1.2 billion. Spending is divided into three departments for each step of the process: in 2015, the Department of Homeland Security received about $32M for refugee processing; the Department of State received about $500M for refugee admissions; and the Department of Health and Human Services (of which the ORR is part) received another $610M for refugee resettlement.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/7ea82f42-2cc5-44ac-b99f-a2ce51080093-1.png" alt="[Chart] How much does refugee resettlement cost?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
13. How does refugee spending compare to spending on veterans and the homeless?
There is no denying that $1.2 billion is a lot of money. A lot of people have taken to social media, claiming that the government will spend more on refugees than on its own veterans and homeless populations.
But how does this number actually compare to government spending on veterans and the homeless? For 2016, the Department of Veteran Affairs budget is requesting $70.2 billion for discretionary and $95.3 billion for mandatory funding, for a total of $165.5 billion. For the same year, the federal government has also budgeted $5.5 billion for homelessness assistance.
So when you look at total spending, the government allots about five times more money for homelessness and about 140 times more on veterans than on refugees.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/2d046fd5-282b-443e-a8b0-1c004e0222f3.png" alt="[Infographic] How does refugee spending compare to spending on veterans and the homeless?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
While the total amount the government spends on refugees is a lot less than what it spends on the veteran and homeless populations, how does this amount compare when it is measured in terms of cost per person? How does the per capita spending on refugees compare?
There are many more veterans in the US than refugees. The VA estimates that as of September 30, 2014, there were an estimated 22 million Veterans living in the United States and its territories (and an additional 27 family members that are eligible for benefits). Of course, not all of veterans require or access services from the VA so what we need is to break the cost down by VA Utilization numbers. Unfortunately, the VA does not take into account duplicates, nor do they disclose the number of unique veterans who utilize VA services. So we end up with a range of between 9.4M on the low end (veterans who accessed the healthcare service, which is the most utilized service) to 22M on the high end (all veterans).
For refugees we also have a range. The budget allocated for 2016 was for a ceiling of 85,000 refugees. But the Office of Refugee Resettlement also provides services to a range of other populations such as unaccompanied children, special immigrant visa arrivals, asylees, and victims of trafficking, which adds about another 85,000 people served. So the high end of this number is 170,000.
For the homeless population, the most recent report (2013) from the The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) lists 610,042 homeless persons in a given night. Of this, 65% or 394,698 people are in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs. We will use this number to estimate the low end of the service utilization range.
The chart below visualizes the per capita spending for refugees, veterans and the homeless with both the high and low end estimates. On the high end, spending on refugees is actually higher (though by only 1%) than spending on homelessness and about 20% less than spending on veterans. On the low range, spending on refugees is still the smallest among all 3 groups but only 7% less than veterans and 22% less than homelessness. Obviously, the per capita calculations could be very different given more accurate service utilization numbers.
<img src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/85d5cb49-36d4-4452-98b7-61ca07c8e69d.png" alt="[Infographic] How does refugee spending per capita compare to spending on veterans and the homeless?"/><a href="https://venngage.com">Infographic</a> by Venngage.
We hope that this data sheds more light to the information circulating the web about refugees in America. We will continue to add more questions and data as we find them.
Please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want your question answered or for any mistakes or corrections and additional information. Or feel free to leave a comment below.