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United States narrowly misses its refugee cap for the fiscal year

Among the largest groups of refugees this year were more than 12,500 Syrians, following a self-declared goal by the administration last September to admit at least 10,000 people fleeing civil war and Islamic State violence there

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Syrian refugee Nadim Fawzi Jouriyeh, 49, speaks to reporters at the Amman, Jordan office of the International Organization for Migration, Aug. 28, 2016.

Washington,October 4, 2016: The United States narrowly missed its refugee cap for the fiscal year, closing out 12 months of political turbulence over admissions policies just five people short of the administration’s target of 85,000.

State Department data as of midnight October 1, the start of the 2017 fiscal year and the reset point for the government’s financial calendar, is the closest the refugee program has come to meeting the presidential established limit in 24 years.

Among the largest groups of refugees this year were more than 12,500 Syrians, following a self-declared goal by the administration last September to admit at least 10,000 people fleeing civil war and Islamic State violence there.

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Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar were also among the top nationalities for resettled refugees for USA. Click To Tweet
The U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, shakes hands with Syrian refugees ahead of their departure to the United States, Aug. 28, 2016.
The U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Alice Wells, shakes hands with Syrian refugees ahead of their departure to the United States, Aug. 28, 2016.

Refugee Arrivals to the U.S. for FY2016
Dem. Rep. Congo: 16,370
Syria: 12,587
Myanmar: 12,347
Iraq: 9,880
Somalia: 9,020
Bhutan: 5,817
Iran: 3,750
Afghanistan: 2,737
Ukraine: 2,543

Refugee and resettlement officials told VOA last week that travel for some refugees who were scheduled to arrive by the end of September was postponed because the limit had been met. A State Department spokesperson did not confirm how many refugees were affected, but said that those who were delayed would be included in the coming fiscal year, which begins October 1.

“We understand that some clients may be held back these days and booked immediately in October. Thus, we expect no effect on clients,” said Bill Canny, who heads migration and refugee services for one of the country’s longest-serving resettlement agencies, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Obama administration indicated in September that the ceiling for 2017 will rise to 110,000 refugees, as world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York to discuss the migrant and refugee crisis; countries pledged to provide permanent placement to at least 360,000 refugees in the coming year, which would more than triple the available spots offered in 2015, the last year for which complete data is available. That increased number stills falls short of the projected need, which according to the U.N. refugee agency will top 1 million next year.

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Since the late 1970s, USA has received more than 3.2 million refugees. Click To Tweet The United States’ modern refugee program, which began in 1980, has come increasingly close to the so-called “admissions ceiling” in recent years. In the last decade, however, nearly 129,000 available slots have gone unfilled.

In order to achieve the goal for Syrian arrivals this year, the Obama administration dedicated additional resources to the screening process in Jordan for refugees awaiting placement. Subsequently, thousands of Syrians were admitted from May to September.

During a brief news conference on September 27, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard said that while the surge worked to expedite paperwork, “it should not become a routine way of our vetting process.”

“We’d like to be able to do this in our existing routine operations throughout the year,” she added.

Richard also said the number of cities where refugees are resettled in the U.S. is “likely to grow” in the coming months. Programs are already in place in roughly 350 cities in nearly every state.

“The United States can accept lots and lots and lots of refugees and provide a home for them,” she told reporters.

But not everyone wants to participate. For the last year, local, state and federal officials have fought over policy decisions and how the government is handling the higher numbers.

FILE - Texas Governor Greg Abbott, lower left, listens as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, right, address the media during a news conference at city hall, in Dallas, July 8, 2016.
FILE – Texas Governor Greg Abbott, lower left, listens as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, right, address the media during a news conference at city hall, in Dallas, July 8, 2016.

This month, Greg Abbott, governor of Texas – one of the leading states for refugee resettlement in recent years — announced his state was backing out of the federal refugee program. Refugees will continue to be placed in Texas, however, through an alternative program.

Kansas and New Jersey both withdrew in a similar manner after concerns over “security” related to refugee screening were raised, despite reassurances from administration officials about the vetting process, which includes investigations by federal law enforcement agencies, medical checks, and interviews.

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Naomi Steinberg, director of Refugee Council USA, an advocacy group for 22 NGOs that work in refugee resettlement, said that what stood out for her after what she called “a difficult year of nasty political rhetoric” is that the U.S. continued a “proud tradition” of welcoming those fleeing persecution.

“We know that as loud as those anti-refugee voices are, that they are still in the minority,” said Steinberg.

Nike Ching contributed to this report from State Department. (VOA)

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Greater Scrutiny Set for Nonimmigrant Work Visa Renewals

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H1B Visa, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
A security guard looks out of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York. VOA

United States, October 27: The United States has announced changes to its nonimmigrant work visa policies that are expected to make renewals more difficult.

In the past, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would generally approve the renewals unless the visa holder had committed a crime. Now, renewals will face the same scrutiny as the original applications.

“USCIS officers are at the front lines of the administration’s efforts to enhance the integrity of the immigration system,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said, according to the announcement posted on USCIS’ website this week. “This updated guidance provides clear direction to help advance policies that protect the interests of U.S. workers.”

The new regulations could affect more than 100,000 people holding at least eight different types of work visas who fill out the I-129 form for renewals.

Sam Adair, a partner at the Graham Adair business immigration law firm in California and Texas, said that for the most part, he expected visa holders would most likely face lengthier adjudication periods in their renewal processes, as opposed to increased numbers of denials.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big shift for us,” Adair told VOA. “But I think what we’ll see is just an increase in the number of requests for evidence, an increase in the delays on the adjudication of these petitions, and really it’s going to just result in more costs for the employers who are filing these petitions.”

‘High-skilled’ workers

Of all visa holders affected by this policy, those in the United States on an H-1B, a visa for “high-skilled” workers, are the biggest group. Of 109,537 people who had to submit I-129 forms in fiscal 2017, 95,485 were H-1B holders, according to data sent to VOA by USCIS.

H-1B visas have been threatened in the past, most recently by a bill proposed this year that would have raised the minimum salary requirement for workers brought in on the visa. While advocates of the program argued that it would keep workers from being exploited, many H-1B holders feared that businesses would be less willing to hire them or keep them on board.

But some Americans support the new regulations, saying that nonimmigrant work visas hurt American workers.

“It’s prudent to make sure that the people that receive those visas are in complete compliance with all of the requirements,” Joe Guzzardi, national media director of Californians for Population Stabilization, told VOA.

“It just isn’t possible to think that there aren’t American workers that couldn’t fill these jobs,” he said, noting that while the regulations might hurt businesses, they would help Americans looking for work.(VOA)

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North Korea may soon be able to hit US with Nuclear Missiles ; Could a war break out soon?

Pyongyang's deputy envoy to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, warned Monday that war could break out at any moment.

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) National Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)(VOA)

Washington, October 20, 2017 : North Korea is likely just months away from being capable of striking the United States with a nuclear missile, according to two top U.S. officials.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a forum in Washington on Thursday he is “deeply worried” about the advancing threat from North Korea and the possibility it could spark a nuclear arms race across East Asia.

“We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” Pompeo said when asked about Pyongyang’s pursuit of missile technology that could launch a warhead to targets in the U.S.

“They are so far along in that it’s now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step?” he added.

north korea
National security adviser H.R. McMaster speaks during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) National Security Summit in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)(VOA)

McMaster: We’re running out of time

U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster said later on Thursday that Washington was racing to resolve the situation, short of using military force.

“We’re not out of time but we’re running out of time,” McMaster said, speaking at the same event. “Accept and deter is unacceptable.”

The comments by Pompeo and McMaster come as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have been steadily rising following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test last month, it’s sixth overall, and repeated tests of what intelligence officials have assessed to be both intermediate and long range ballistic missiles.

But despite warning that North Korea is just months away from being able to target the U.S., the CIA’s Pompeo cautioned there are still questions about just how “robust” the North Korea nuclear threat has become, and whether Pyongyang will be able to deliver multiple nuclear warheads to nuclear targets.

“There’s always a risk. Intelligence is imperfect,” Pompeo said, adding there is evidence Pyongyang may be getting help from Iran, citing “deep conventional weapons ties as between the two countries.”

He also warned that each North Korean test makes an arms race ever more likely.

“You watch as North Korea grows ever closer to having its capability perfected, you can imagine others in the region also thinking that they well may need that capability,” he said.

north korea
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while answering questions at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia (VOA)

Putin suggests force won’t work against North Korea

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against the use of force to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat, suggesting it would not work.

“Talks about a preventative, disarming strike — and we hear both hints and open threats — this is very dangerous,” Putin said during a speaking engagement in Sochi.

“Who knows what and where is hidden in North Korea? And whether all of it can be destroyed with one strike, I doubt it,” he said. “I’m almost sure it is impossible.”

North Korean officials have also repeatedly warned the U.S. against any provocations.

Pyongyang’s deputy envoy to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, warned Monday that war could break out at any moment.

Other North Korean officials have accused the U.S. of making preparations for war, citing the presence of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, conducting exercises to the east of the Korean Peninsula.

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United States Bombers Fly Near To North Korea’s Coast

The US flew bombers near North Korea's coast on Saturday, an action the Defense Department said was meant to send a clear message to Pyongyang about the country's military options.

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Bombers
Source: Wikimedia Common

Washington, September 24, 2017: The US flew bombers near North Korea’s coast on Saturday, an action the Defense Department said was meant to send a clear message to Pyongyang about the country’s military options.

“This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that (President Donald Trump) has many military options to defeat any threat,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement, Efe news reported.

“North Korea’s weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community. We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the US homeland and our allies,” the statement added.

White said US Air Force B-1B bombers from the US island territory of Guam and US Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan “flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.”

“This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any US fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century, underscoring the seriousness with which we take (North Korea’s) reckless behavior,” White said.

The Pentagon’s announcement came before North Korea addressed the United Nations’ General Assembly on Saturday and after the US imposed new sanctions on Pyongyang this week.

Those new sanctions bar ships and aircraft from visiting the US within 180 days of having gone to North Korea.

The ban also applies to vessels that have done a ship-to-ship transfer with a vessel that has visited North Korea within 180 days.

Trump ordered the sanctions via a decree whose aim is to “maximize pressure on North Korea to demonstrate to its leadership that the best and only path is to return to denuclearization.”

A new nuclear test by Pyongyang earlier this month and Trump’s belligerent rhetoric have caused tensions on the Korean peninsula to soar over the last year.

Seismic activity Saturday in North Korea, meanwhile, sparked fears that Pyongyang may have conducted yet another nuclear test, but experts said the small earthquake was probably due to natural causes.

North Korea has refused to back down in the face of international pressure and on Saturday said it was nearing completion of its nuclear goals but that its program was intended merely as a deterrent.

“We do not have any intention at all to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the countries that do not join in the US military actions against (the Asian nation),” North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

Ri on Friday said North Korea may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean, making those remarks after Trump inflamed tensions in his debut speech before the UN.

Trump ominously warned Pyongyang on Tuesday that the US would obliterate the Asian country if necessary.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said in his UN speech. (IANS)

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