Immigration

Florida is magnet for refugees fleeing their homelands

Cuba is among the top five countries citizens are fleeing from. In fiscal year 2013, 4,205 Cubans received refugee visas, a 6 percent increase over the figure in 2012. The majority settle in Florida, among the top five destination states for refugees.
Cuba is among the top five countries citizens are fleeing from. In fiscal year 2013, 4,205 Cubans received refugee visas, a 6 percent increase over the figure in 2012. The majority settle in Florida, among the top five destination states for refugees. Getty Images

Now that refugee arrivals from around the world are increasing again, Florida has become a big magnet for foreign nationals fleeing persecution abroad.

A recently-released report by the Department of Homeland Security’s office of immigration statistic shows that Florida is among the top five refugee destinations in the United States. The first four states are, in that order, Texas, California, Michigan and New York.

The top five countries of origin of these refugees include, in that order, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Cuba.

In general, refugees are foreign nationals given a visa in either their countries of origin or some other country to resettle in the United States. People who receive asylum within the United States are considered asylees. Both refugees and asylees can apply for green cards after their status is approved.

In fiscal year 2013, the year for which the most recent data is available, 69,909 refugees were admitted into the United States. This marks a 20 percent increase from the fiscal year 2012 figure of 58,179.

The increase reflects improved processing of security and medical checks for refugee families — steps that had previously delayed visas.

Refugee admissions began declining in the 1990s, and declined even further after terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The decline has been widely attributed to imposition in the United States of tightened security checks on refugee applicants.

“The number of refugee arrivals subsequently increased and reached a post-2001 peak in 2009,” according to a recent Homeland Security office of immigration statistics report. “After decreasing from 2009 to 2011, refugee admissions increased sharply from 2012 to 2013.”

Figures for 2014 will not be available until later.

Refugees from Iraq made up the majority of the 69,909 people with refugee visas who arrived in fiscal year 2014: 19,487.

The other four top refugee nationalities were Burma, Bhutan, Somalia and Cuba — in that order.

In fiscal year 2013, the report says, 4,205 Cubans received refugee visas, a 6 percent increase over the figure in 2012.

While Cubans can enter the United States without visas and apply for residence after a year and a day in the country, some also apply for refugee visas in Havana. The 4,205 Cuban refugees who arrived in fiscal year 2013 marked a sharp increase from 2012 when 1,948 showed up.

A notice on the website of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana provides some details on how Cubans can apply for refugee visas.

It says that to apply for refugee status with the Section’s U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, a person must complete a so-called preliminary questionnaire and then deliver it to the Havana refugee section in person, by mail or via fax.

The website states clearly that if the applicant is approved he or she will be “resettled in the United States.”

Cuban and other refugees receive housing and other relocation assistance for up to three months. But these benefits cannot be renewed.

“You are expected to become a self-sufficient member of society as soon after your arrival as possible,” the Section website says.

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