Refugee 101, Part 5: Refugees as Assets
Refugees are important social and economic assets to the countries that they resettle to, including the United States. First, refugees are paying into our taxation systems. With that, they are also contributing to core programs like social security and Medicare, filling in critical gaps brought on by our aging U.S. population. Perhaps most significantly, refugee Americans are single-handedly rebuilding some of our most depressed neighborhoods and towns and adding new life to communities affected by attrition.
New Americans help keep our communities alive and prosperous. In a nine-year period, resettled refugees contributed nearly $41 billion in federal net fiscal benefits and $22 billion to their local economies. They are inclined to entrepreneurial efforts, too, surpassing other foreign-born populations in business start-ups and generating billions of dollars in taxable revenue. Additionally, new Americans bring with them new cuisine, fresh ideas and perspectives, language, art, music, entertainment, and athletic talents and professional expertise.
By and large, newcomers do well in school, too. Resettled refugees who arrive before the age of 14 are highly likely to graduate alongside their U.S. born peers. Those arriving before age 13 are more likely to graduate than traditional students.
Many refugee arrivals come to the U.S. with prior education, including college degrees. Often, these degrees do not transfer. Sometimes, formal documentation of a degree was left behind or cannot be verified because of existing disruption in the home country. Many others have expertise in a particular field or trade. With this in mind, the prior knowledge that resettled refugees bring with them is one of our greatest untapped resources.
Refugees can and do contribute to society in innumerable ways. We can be intentional in our willingness to learn from them, even as we empower them to learn, work, raise families, engage in civic opportunities and lead within our communities.
Excerpt from The Newcomer Student (Kreuzer-El Yaafouri, 2006):
“Resettlement is work. It requires effort, strength, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. It requires embracing, learning, growing, and renewing. Refugees and immigrants, in the very global sense, face the shared task of renovating and reconstructing every element of the former life.
The vast majority of relocated refugees and immigrants will embrace the new country with fierce loyalty and determination to succeed. These individuals will go on to work, attend universities, build professions, purchase homes, raise children, and contribute to their communities and in most cases, obtain citizenship. They become Americans- by official decree, through day-to-day contributions to our society, or both.
Ultimately, each reality—refugee or immigrant—is yoked to separate and unique sets of resettlement implications, which can, in turn, affect education and learning. In any case, it is prudent to keep in mind that all Newcomers are capable of full and complex contributions to our own Western societies. Each of our students and student guardians has something meaningful to contribute to the academic welfare of students, and also the community at large.
Some individuals are capable of gifting real-world advice about human circumstance on a global level. Others share academic knowledge or industry insight. Many provide critical trade, labor, arts and service skills. Resettled refugees are statistically likely to make significant economic and civic contributions to their new communities. If we are effective in our role as educators, then we can also expect that our Newcomer students will grow to become positive, valued members of society.
In essence, all Newcomers hold the capacity to become the underwriters of language, history, community engagement, and heritage preservation; and this is at the very heart of the American spirit. All knowledge has a place. This is the main idea, the Big Picture, the most important thing.”
Columbus Council on World Affairs
Department of Health and Human Services, 2017
Foundation for Economic Education
Market Watch, 2018
National Immigration Forum, 2017
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2017