The continuing outflow of refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and communist revolutions in Southeast Asia generated general agreement of the need for more regular refugee admission policies. The Senate passed such reform unanimously in late 1979 and Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980 early the next year. The new law superceded the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 and raised the annual ceiling for refugees from 17,400 to 50,000, created a process for reviewing and adjusting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” according to standards 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.