Refugee Act of 1980

  • Refugee Act of 1980
  • Refugee Act of 1980
Refugee Act of 1980

36-3027aIn the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the need for a change in American policy concerning refugees became apparent as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians fled political chaos and physical danger in their homelands. Between 1975 and 1979, some 300,000 of these refugees were able to come to the United States through Presidential action, as the law at the time restricted refugee admissions. Seeing this, many members of Congress wanted to establish a more regular system of immigration and resettlement that would establish a clear and flexible policy.

Passed unanimously by the Senate in late 1979 and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in early 1980, the Refugee Act of 1980 amended the earlier Immigration and Nationality Act and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act. It raised the annual ceiling for refugees from 17,400 to 50,000, created a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies, and required annual consultation between Congress and the President.

The Act also changed the definition of “refugee” to a person with a “well-founded fear of persecution,” a standard established by United Nations conventions and protocols. It also funded a new Office of U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs and an Office of Refugee Resettlement and built on already existing public-private partnerships that helped refugees settle and adjust to life in their new country.

Click here to download a high-resolution copy of the Refugee Act of 1980, the first and signature pages of which are shown here.

Past Featured Records
  • Featured Document Display: Never Forget: Remembering the Holocaust
    Featured Document Display: Never Forget: Remembering the Holocaust

    Seventy-five years ago on January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in German-occupied Poland. Russian soldiers discovered thousands of sick, dying, and dead prisoners when they entered the complex of concentration camps, forced labor camps, and a killing center abandoned by the... Read more

  • 50 Years Ago: Government Stops Investigating UFOs
    50 Years Ago: Government Stops Investigating UFOs

    To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Project Blue Book, the National Archives will display records from the Air Force’s unidentified flying objects (UFOs)  investigations.

    Report of a “flying saucer” over U.S. airspace in 1947 caused a wave of “UFO hysteria” and sparked... Read more

  • 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11
    50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

    Visit the National Archives to see exclusive, featured documents from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. From transcripts to flight plans, the museum will highlight some of the most important pieces of the monumental occasion. Documents will be on display through August 7, 2019 in the Rotunda... Read more

  • 75th Anniversary of D-Day
    75th Anniversary of D-Day

    On June 6, 1944, Allied forces launched the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen. The historic D-day invasion of Normandy, France, was a turning point in World War II, but it was just the initial assault in a massive operation that liberated Western Europe... Read more

  • Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm: “Unbought and Unbossed”
    Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm: “Unbought and Unbossed”

    Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to serve in Congress when she took office in January of 1969. During her seven Congressional terms, “Fighting Shirley” was an outspoken champion for racial and gender equality, and economic justice. To mark the 50th anniversary of Chisholm’s... Read more