The continuing outflow of refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and communist revolutions in Southeast Asia generated political support for expanded and regular refugee admissions. The Senate passed such a reform unanimously in late 1979 and President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980 early the next year. The new law superseded the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 and raised the annual ceiling for refugees from 17,400 to 50,000, created a process for reviewing and adjusting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 on refugee admissions.
The Act 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.
SEC. 101. (a) The Congress declares that it is the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands, including, where appropriate, humanitarian assistance for their care and maintenance in asylum
areas, efforts to promote opportunities for resettlement or voluntary repatriation, aid for necessary transportation and processing, admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and transitional assistance to refugees in the United States . . .
(b) The objectives of this Act are to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of
special humanitarian concern to the United States, and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.