(BBC) – The US says it will cap the number of refugees allowed into the country next year at a near record low of 30,000.
It compares with a 45,000-refugee limit set by President Donald Trump for 2018 and 50,000 the year before.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced “the new refugee ceiling”, adding the US would also process more than 280,000 asylum seekers in 2019.
The lowest such admissions figure was in 2002, after 9/11, when some 27,000 refugees were allowed into the US.
Over the past decade, the number of refugees admitted to the US has fluctuated from a low of 48,282 in 2007 to a high of 84,995 in 2016.
What is the US refugee programme?
The US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) was set up in 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act.
US and international law currently say that people can seek asylum if they fear persecution at home on the basis of their race, political opinion, nationality, religion or because they belong to a particular social group.
According to the New York Times, Monday’s announcement represents the lowest ceiling any president has imposed on the programme since its creation.
The Trump administration has pursued tight restrictions on immigration and critics have accused it of scaling back protection for the world’s most vulnerable people.
The US had previously led the world in accepting refugees with more than 3 million people resettled since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.
Why is the US cutting it?
Mr Pompeo said it would be “wrong” to view the refugee ceiling as “the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world”.
The limit had to be viewed “in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States”, he said.
During a brief press conference, in which he did not take any questions from reporters, Mr Pompeo said that the cut was needed because of a backlog of 800,000 pending asylum cases.
He added that the new policy “serves the national security interests” of the US.
What is the criticism?
Eric Schwartz, president of the independent organisation Refugees International, called the new cap “appalling”.
In a statement published on the body’s website, Mr Schwartz said the decision continues the Trump administration’s “rapid flight from the proud US tradition of providing resettlement to those fleeing persecution around the world”.
Church World Service, a nonprofit group that helps resettle refugees in the US, called it “an affront to the countless American communities who have welcomed refugees and understand that they are valuable members of our congregations, cities and towns”.
What do current figures show?
The US is currently on track to admit only about half the maximum number of refugees allowed in 2018.
By the end of August fewer than 20,000 refugees had been admitted, which means it is unlikely that the US will hit its current cap.
According to the United Nations, there are more than 25 million refugees worldwide and another 40 million who are displaced within their own countries.
Around 85% of displaced people are currently living in developing countries.