10 Facts about Refugees in the United States of America


SEATTLE — There are many misconceptions about refugees in the United States of America. The U.S. has welcomed 3 million refugees since 1975. In 2016, the majority of refugees are from Burma (8,112), Democratic Republic of Congo (6,350) and Somalia (5,780). The United States has welcomed refugees from seven countries so far this year and has resettled 2,805 Syrians since the crisis began in 2011.

Refugees in the United States of America are handled by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is housed under the Department of Health and Human Services. In the fiscal year 2015, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has a budget of $1.56 billion, which is a large increase from 10 years ago when the budget was $587 million. However, it should be noted that $987 million of this increase goes solely to assisting minors across the border from Mexico.

The accurate budget for resettling refugees is $582 million, which is a small decrease over the 10-year period.

10 Facts About Refugees in the United States of America

1. Refugees are not the same as migrants. Refugees are forced from their homes as a matter of safety and cannot return to their origin country. Migrants choose to move for other reasons, such as being with family or searching for better employment. Migrants can be deported as the host country dictates, but refugees are protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

2. Refugees go through rigorous background checks.

The screening process can last up to two years and includes a great deal of paperwork. Applicants are screened through the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department.

This screening looks for indicators of security risk, connection to known terrorist actors and outstanding warrants or criminal charges. Interviews are conducted and fingerprints are taken. Currently, there is enhanced review of Syrian refugees. Only one percent of the global refugee population is granted resettlement in the U.S.

3. Refugees undergo health screenings before entering the U.S.

Refugees are given health examinations at camps and processing centers before entering the U.S. Most health issues are due to lack of medical access, poor medical care or illness incurred while fleeing. The Center for Disease Control monitors all refugees entering the United States and detains anyone who is a threat to public health.

4. Refugees are a potential source of urban renewal.

There are several cities in the U.S. where refugees have resettled and turned around dying neighborhoods, for example, St. Louis, Cleveland, Chicago, Nashville and Baltimore. In the 1990s, Bosnian refugees transformed the dying neighborhood of Bevo Mill, Missouri into a renewed area.

5. Refugees are often entrepreneurs.

Refugees in the United States of America who start businesses are creating jobs. In Cleveland in 2012, businesses owned by refugees directly contributed $7.6 million in economic activity to Cleveland’s economy. Additionally, they are paying the same taxes as all other U.S. citizens. There are 18 cities in the “Rust Belt” that are actively trying to bring in refugees to stimulate the economy.

6. Most refugees find employment.

According to the Migration Policy Institute Fact Sheet, two-thirds of refugee men are employed compared to 50 percent of U.S.-born men. Refugee women are employed at approximately the same rate as U.S.-born women.

7. The majority of refugees are not dangerous.

Out of 18 million refugees worldwide, half are children and many adult refugees have never participated in combat or violence. In fact, many refugees have been consumed by violence and war for so long they are conflict averse. In a 2008 survey of refugees from Darfur, those who had personally experienced violence expressed the need for peace more so than those who had not.

Terrorists have much easier avenues of entering the United States than posing as a refugee. With the rigorous screening and long wait times for processing, this method makes little sense. Gaining refugee status is the hardest and most time-consuming method for a terrorist to attempt entry to the U.S.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 784,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Three of the 784,000 have been arrested for planning terrorist activities; of those three arrested, two of them were planning attacks outside the U.S.

8. Refugees are legal residents.

The U.S. Government does not track refugees. Refugees are free to move wherever they like, although most will remain close to family. Refugees must apply as a Lawful Permanent Resident after one year and are provided with a pathway to citizenship after five years.

9. Refugees receive finite financial support.

Refugees receive $1,000 to cover initial expenses, such as rent and food, and are required to seek employment. Apartments are obtained on the open market; government housing is not provided.

As legal residents, they are eligible to apply for the same benefits as other U.S. residents but must meet the same standard requirements. Further, all refugees pay back the cost of their plane ticket to the U.S.

10. Refugees are not a drain on society.

Research indicates, according to the Washington Post, that many refugees have either a positive or neutral economic effect on their communities. Refugees appear to improve their living situation and income the longer they are in the United States, paying back their initial costs in the long run.

Refugees in the United States of America can become productive members of society and contributors to the economy. The U.S. takes great care in resettling these individuals so that safety concerns for all parties are considered.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr


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