Refugee admissions to the United States will restart this week, a State Department spokesperson told CNN, following a temporary freeze put in place late last year to focus on the resettlement of Afghan evacuees.
The Biden administration had paused admissions of refugees, unless they met certain exceptions, as officials and refugee resettlement agencies raced to accommodate tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan.
This week, admissions will kick back into gear, meaning that refugees from around the world who have undergone all processing and checks will be allowed to come to the US.
“As of January 11, there are no restrictions on refugee travel,” the spokesperson said.
The effort to resettle tens of thousands of Afghans in a temporary period put immense strain on an already-overwhelmed system. The freeze was intended to help agencies focus on Afghans who had been evacuated and arrived in the US.
In many cases, refugee resettlement agencies that partner with the federal government had limited capacity after years of declining refugee admissions under the Trump administration, resulting in closed offices and laid-off staff.
Nearly 55,000 Afghans have been resettled nationwide and around 20,500 people remain at domestic military bases as of January 6, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Over recent months, refugee advocates have bolstered their capacity and volunteer forces to accommodate evacuees and help integrate them into communities in the United States.
“Spurred by the arrival of our Afghan allies, we have been able to launch new resettlement offices, hire staff, and forge new relationships with community and volunteer groups,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, in a statement.
“We can continue resettling Afghan families off of U.S. military facilities and we can resume the work of welcome for refugees of other nationalities arriving from abroad. The human impact can’t be understated,” she added.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is expecting 236 refugees from around the world this month, according to Timothy Young, press secretary at the organization. That’s a jump from December, when it had 143 arrivals because they qualified for exception.
As of November 30, more than 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States in the new fiscal year, according to the latest figures from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. The fiscal year 2022 cap – which dictates how many refugees can be resettled in the US – is 125,000.