Washington: The United States will curtail the number of refugees it will accept for resettlement to 45,000 next year, nearly half the figure for 2016, officials said on Thursday, triggering criticism from humanitarian groups and lawmakers.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will soon brief the Congress on this, a US government official told reporters during a conference call.
A presidential determination is expected to be issued in the coming days.
Officials said they plan to complete a review of security procedures for vetting new arrivals by next month, but arrivals next year will be reduced.
The regional breakdown will be Africa, 19,000; East Asia, 5,000; Europe and Central Asia, 2,000; Latin America and the Caribbean, 1,500; Near East South Asia, 17,000.
"The security and safety of the American people is our chief concern," a government official said.
In the 2016 fiscal year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees from around the world. This year it is on course to take in around 50,000.
The US is still the world's biggest destination for refugees, but arrivals are well down from a high of more than 200,000 in 1980.
Since 1975, the US has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world.
"While maintaining the US' leadership role in humanitarian protection, an integral part of this mission is to ensure that refugee resettlement opportunities only go to those who are eligible for such protection and who are not known to present a risk to the safety and security of our country," the official said.
The official noted that the refugee resettlement is only one part of the US' response to the crisis of forced displacement around the world.
"The US also remains the world's leading donor of humanitarian assistance, providing over USD 7 billion in humanitarian assistance around the world last year," the official said.
In 2017, the US has provided more than USD 1.4 billion in humanitarian assistance for the Syria crisis, and more than USD 581 million for the Iraq crisis.
"We have provided nearly USD 2.5 billion for people from countries facing famine. And we have provided nearly USD 95 million for displaced persons in Burma and the region," the official added.
The move drew a sharp reaction from lawmakers and human rights activists.
"A refugee admissions ceiling of 45,000 is completely unacceptable and does not reflect the needs of the worldwide humanitarian crisis," Senator Dianne Feinstein said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 22.5 million refugees and 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.
"The founding fathers of the US 'a country of immigrants' fought to create a democracy that would be an example of hope and freedom for the world. President Trump's move to drastically cut back the number of refugees we'll admit into our country flies in the face of those principles," he said.
"This administration's efforts to isolate us from our allies around the globe only serve to further this misconception. Refugees make great contributions to our economy and our society, and communities across the country, if given the chance, would welcome them with open arms," he said.
"At a time when the world is facing the worst refugee crisis in history, it is unconscionable that the Trump Administration is setting the lowest refugee ceiling in history," Senator Dick Durbin said.
Congressmen John Conyers and Zoe Lofgren in a joint statement said the Trump Administration's decision to cut refugee admissions to a historic low of 45,000 is an affront to the US' legacy as a protector of oppressed people.
"These drastic measures are completely unnecessary because according to national security experts, our refugee program's current vetting process is already extremely effective in identifying and mitigating threats to our national security. Reducing the numbers of refugees is nothing short of a back-door Muslim Ban," said Gadier Abbas from CAIR.
Elica Vafaie from?Asian Americans Advancing Justice said by slashing refugee resettlement programme to "historic low", President Trump is abusing executive power to change the very fabric and face of an American story.
Avideh Moussavian from National Immigration Law Center said the drastic reduction in the number of refugees by the Trump administration "shamefully puts lives at risk" and is using public policy to discriminate against Muslims in the US.