Logo for: President's Alliance Higher Education & Immigration

Why We Need A New College And University Pathway For Refugees

Forced displacement has doubled in the past decade, and 2020 was another record-setting year in terms of the number of people forced to flee their homes. By the end of 2020, 82.4 million individuals were displaced worldwide and an estimated  1.4 million are currently in need of resettlement.  At the same time, fewer than one percent of refugees are resettled each year. While 39 percent of students are able to access higher education worldwide, only a dismal 5 percent of refugee youth access higher education. A multitude of barriers create and perpetuate this inequity. 

The F-1 visa system, the current legal channel for refugee learners wanting to attend college or university in the U.S., is complex for refugees to access and does not provide them with a durable solution. Student visas are, by legal definition, temporary: the student must prove that they are entering the United States in non-immigrant status and do not have an intent to immigrate. F-1 students must also demonstrate that they can cover all their educational and living costs for the duration of their program. Thus, the F-1 visa does not, as currently designed, provide durable protection to refugees who enter the U.S. as international students. Since the creation of the federal refugee resettlement program in 1980, there has not been a systematic mechanism for universities to sponsor refugees. Currently, small numbers of refugee students make their way to the U.S. to study, enriching U.S. college and university campuses with their resilience, skills, and diverse perspectives and backgrounds..

In the Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2022, President Biden announced the launch of a private sponsorship pilot program anticipated for 2022. This program would make college and university sponsorship possible, meaning private sponsors could identify and refer refugees to a new Priority 4 (P-4) category and apply to sponsor their resettlement, providing funding and core resettlement services. Admitting refugee students through a P-4 category of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) would expand the existing referral categories (Priority 1, 2, and 3) through which refugees are currently resettled in the U.S. UNHCR has set a target to enroll 15 percent of refugees in  Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by 2030. The creation of university sponsorship for refugee students contributes to both goals by creating a complementary pathway and access to education for refugee students.

This is a resource of the RESPONSE campaign. You can view the infographic here.

Presidents Alliance logo