July 30, 2018. For many decades, refugees were not at the center of attention in immigration debates. Refugee resettlement was viewed as a duty to the United States that we handled quietly and with pride. There were debates about how to handle border enforcement, interior enforcement, visas for farm workers, visas for high-skilled workers, and of course constant wrestling about a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Refugee resettlement, never a big share of overall immigration, was seen as a humanitarian imperative.
Today, that looks different. Refugees were very prominently in the news in the summer of 2015, large numbers of families fleeing from Syria and Afghanistan to Europe, Turkey, and Lebanon. Then the Trump administration raised the temperature of the debate, putting refugees in the spotlight along with undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, people from Muslim-majority countries, and future immigration altogether.
As refugees are becoming a target of anti-immigrant policy, researchers are starting to compile and release reports documenting the positive contributions of refugees. The Fiscal Policy Institute has published or co-published several reports focusing on refugees, including “Refugees as Employees: Good Retention, Strong Recruitment,” which documents the benefits to employers when they incorporate refugees into the workforce. Others include refugee placement data by metro-area and a co-released report with the Center for American Progress outlining the high levels of integration among Bosnian, Burmese, Hmong, and Somali refugees and a follow up study on Syrian refugees. And so have organizations such as the Urban Institute, New American Economy, Migration Policy Institute, Global Detroit, Pew Research Center, Center for Migration Studies and other organizations and academics across the United States, showing the economic impacts of refugees, immigrant profiles and more.
A recent study by Hamutal Bernstein of the Urban Institute does a valuable job of bringing together a lot of the current findings. “Bringing Evidence to the Refugee Integration Debate,” outlines the policy debate, and cites research that demonstrates the economic, civic and linguistic integration outcomes of refugees found in other research, available data sources and data limitations.
To highlight a few of the points of research consensus Bernstein finds:
- After initial assistance getting settled, refugees contribute to the economy.
- Refugees are entrepreneurial and become business owners.
- As refugees’ time in the U.S. increases, their English language proficiency becomes greater.
- Children of refugees have high levels of educational attainment.
- Refugee labor force participation rates rise to a similar rate or exceed those of U.S.-born residents.
- Refugees are more likely to become homeowners after residing in the U.S. for 10 years or more.
- Many refugees become U.S. citizens and perform their duty to vote to engage in the American democracy.
Refugees are revitalizing declining cities and helping to reverse population decline. America’s sense of pride in helping those in need, long considered one of America’s core values, is under threat. While many refugee advocates are eager to stress that resettlement is a moral imperative, it is also valuable to remind the public that refugees are not a burden, rather they are an asset to the economy and the rich cultural diversity of the United States. Continuing refugee resettlement continues to show American’s compassion and persistence to those who seek to come to America to find peace and safety. As a country, we don’t do it out of self-interest. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it’s also good for all of us.
By: Cyierra Roldan