The Refugee Act of 1980 is now on temporary display in the West Gallery of the National Archives Building.
At the end of the Vietnam War, 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 admitted to the United States through Presidential action. The law at the time restricted refugee admissions, and many members of Congress wanted to establish a more regular system of immigration and resettlement.
The Refugee Act of 1980 raised the annual ceiling for refugees 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 law 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.