Biden to Tap Career Diplomat as Top Official on Refugee Policy

And the president is set to announce nominees for two senior USAID posts.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with officials at the White House to discuss migration issues.
U.S. President Joe Biden and chief of staff Ron Klain meet with cabinet members and immigration advisors at the White House in Washington on March 24. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to name three new nominees to senior diplomatic and foreign aid positions, including the top State Department official on refugee issues, a White House official told Foreign Policy.

Julieta Valls Noyes, a veteran career diplomat, is expected to be nominated as the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration—a senior post that could play a key role in the Biden administration’s efforts to reverse Trump-era sharp restrictions on the number of refugees entering the United States. Noyes, the acting director of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute and former ambassador to Croatia, is a first-generation American whose parents entered the United States as refugees from Cuba.

Biden is also expected to announce nominees for two senior posts at the United States’ leading foreign aid agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Paloma Adams-Allen, president and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation, a U.S. government agency that funds development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, will be nominated as the deputy USAID administrator for management and resources. Isobel Coleman, a senior member of the Biden transition team and former U.S. envoy to the United Nations for management and reform under the Obama administration, will be nominated as USAID’s deputy administrator for policy and programming.

If confirmed by the Senate, all three nominees would join agencies widely perceived as hollowed out and damaged by politicization and mismanagement under former President Donald Trump. The State Department’s top post overseeing refugee issues was left unfilled during the Trump administration’s four years in power, though lower-level officials assumed the job in an acting capacity. Several senior career diplomats in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration who defended refugees were reassigned or temporarily sidelined during a shake-up in 2018 as the Trump administration worked to slash refugee admissions to record lows.

Biden announced last month he would allow as many as 62,500 refugees into the United States this fiscal year, reversing Trump’s historically low cap of 15,000. The announcement came after the president faced widespread backlash on an initial plan to temporarily keep the Trump-era limits in place.

Refugee advocates had been urging Biden for several weeks to swiftly nominate someone to the population, refugees, and migration assistant secretary role. In April, John Slocum, interim executive director of Refugee Council USA, a nonprofit advocacy organization, sent Biden a letter obtained by Politico urging him to pick an assistant secretary “who has a deep understanding of the complex issues surrounding forced displacement, refugee resettlement, and other forms of humanitarian protection.”

USAID faced its own internal turmoil amid a shortage of senior, Senate-confirmed leadership and during the reign of several controversial Trump appointees, some of whom had little to no experience in international aid prior to their appointments. Career USAID staffers and other international aid experts said they hoped Biden’s picks to lead the aid agency, including USAID Administrator Samantha Power and other senior USAID nominees, would work to reverse the era of turmoil—and restore the agency’s standing in Washington and morale among the rank and file.

Adams-Allen previously worked at USAID during the Obama administration and spent a decade working at the Organization of American States. Coleman has previously worked at international nonprofits and as a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

Biden has faced criticism from current and former diplomats for not moving swiftly enough to fill out the ranks of his foreign-policy team. As the president nears six months in office, dozens of senior leadership posts at the State Department, Department of Defense, USAID, and other federal agencies—as well as nearly 100 ambassador posts—remain unfilled and without named nominees. Administration officials have said there are backlogs in the nominee process thanks to onerous paperwork and security background checks, as well as cascading delays that were initially caused by Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 elections.

Biden officials also counter that they are on pace with the historical average in ambassador nominations and ahead on other administration nominations. Biden has named nine ambassador nominees so far, on par with the number of nominees former Presidents Barack Obama and Trump had named by early June during their first year in office, according to public congressional records.

Biden has yet to announce his picks for envoys to major U.S. allies—including ambassadors to Israel, Japan, South Korea, and European allies—as well as other important ambassador posts to China, India, or Afghanistan. Several officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the White House is expected to name a new slate of Biden ambassador nominees in the coming weeks.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer