SEATTLE — Last November, while waves of Syrian refugees were immigrating to Europe in search of safety from the ongoing civil war, France experienced a harrowing terrorist attack in Paris.
As Europe collectively scrambled to define and heal the wounds of this attack, many people suggested a connection to the influx of refugees. This connection garnered more support and attention in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting in the United States in December.
In the U.S, concerns that refugees will consume welfare and be a burden on society are most often the reasons given for not wanting people to enter the country, according to an op-ed in the Washington Post, written by Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. “Fine, cancel welfare for them and admit more,” he writes. “Refugees want safety, not handouts.”
In comparison to other countries, the United States’ pledge to accept 10,000 refugees pales in comparison to that of other countries, especially countries which are relatively smaller than the U.S. geographically and economically.
In an article in The New Yorker, John Cassidy writes: “Since 2012 the European Union has received about 1.9 million requests for asylum, and even that number is dwarfed by the number of people who have sought refuge in countries adjacent to Syria. According to the United Nations, Turkey has taken in an estimated 2.2 million, Lebanon 1.1 million, and Jordan six hundred and thirty thousand.”
“Based purely upon these figures, you might think that the economies of these countries would be sagging under the burden, but they aren’t,” he says.
Cassidy cites a report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that shows these countries have all experienced economic growth in the past two years. Their economies are expected to continue growing mainly due to their favorable refugee immigration policies. Turkey’s economy, for instance, is expected to grow by four percent in 2016.
“These figures make the point that, even in countries facing huge influxes of refugees, the impact on the economy as a whole is usually not very large,” he writes. “The biggest challenges in accommodating refugees are social and political, rather than economic.”
These statistics and projections are contradictory to the prevailing anti-refugee notions about immigration. Whereas it is commonly believed in the U.S. that immigrants take jobs away from other Americans, there are concrete data-driven reasons to believe that immigrants actually bolster the economy.
Alex Nowrasteh cites a 2013 International Labor Organization survey of Syrian refugees in Lebanon which found they had a wide range of skills. “Half of the workers were skilled or semi-skilled while the other half were low-skilled workers in agricultural or personal services such as cleaning,” writes Nowrasteh. “Few spoke English but lower-skilled jobs in the United States require more manual strength than English ability.”
He argues that an influx of lower-skilled workers could actually help Americans with less skill. “The United States does not have a fixed supply of jobs,” he writes. “By working in the United States and consuming goods and services, more jobs will be created to supply them.”
Syrians who are given the chance to work will earn taxable income which will be reinvested in the economy through consumerism. In fact, immigration can expand the tax base for the government.
The benefits of accepting refugees is not only economic, however. There is a needed humanitarian response to the tremendous hardships and duress the Syrian refugees have had to endure. Humanitarianism is just as important as economic growth.