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  • Article: Refugees in America Are Happy, Productive, and Integrating. By Matthew La Corte

    Refugees in America Are Happy, Productive, and Integrating


    A recent survey of refugees living in Colorado provides new evidence of their integration and contributions to American society and the economy. The report finds that after four years of life in the United States, 75 percent of refugees were “highly integrated,” and nine in ten worked for  more than thirty hours per week.

    In light of the recent scrutiny of the refugee programs, recognizing the contributions of refugees and their positive integration outcomes is critical to determining admissions numbers moving forward.

    The Colorado survey studied nearly all Burmese, Bhutanese, Somali, and Iraqi refugees that arrived between January 2011 and March 2012. Colorado’s State Refugee Coordinator, Kit Taintor, said, “these refugees are integrating, they are finding jobs with higher wages, they are able to do things like move from a rented apartment into a home.”

    Additionally, the survey detailed that just five percent of refugees remain in the “low-integration” range after four years in the United States.

    Researchers posited this group primarily consists of stay-at-home mothers and refugees over 55 years old, because stay-at-home mothers lack the social interactions found in school or employment and older individuals have a harder time learning a new language and finding permanent work. Both lead to increased isolation, which hinders integration.

    Despite these groups, three-fourths of refugees surveyed were rated highly integrated within four years. Six in ten refugees were fluent in English, and nine in ten were working more than 30 hours per week. Work progress is shown in the chart below:

    Most refugees, seven in ten, reported that they were employed at a level commensurate with their education — implying they found the right fit for occupation quickly.

    In regards to barriers to employment, refugees claiming they “couldn’t find job” went from 55 percent in year one to just 5 percent in the fourth year.

    Of those surveyed, two-thirds spend time with people of a culture, ethnic group, language, or religion different from their own. Seven in ten can readily access information about other cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and religions. And eight in ten celebrate American holidays.

    Seventy-five percent attend celebrations or events for other cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and religions, depicted in the chart below.

    Survey participant Leela Tinsina left Bhutan when he was 14, and lived for two decades in a refugee camp. Having lived in Colorado for five years, Leela calls America his home, where he works for a Colorado non-profit organization, and where he and his wife, who works in the healthcare industry, just bought a home and are raising two boys.

    Tinsina said, “I feel very proud and honored to be in this country.” He considers his move to America his second life and said, “I want to say thank you to the American people, and the American government.” The successes for individuals like Leesa are impressive, considering that they spent years of their lives fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

    Of course, progress is still needed. The survey found that one-fourth of refugees do not have health insurance. Twenty percent still cannot speak English, and four in ten still lack confidence in their language skills.

    The Colorado study showcases integration progress from refugees as they spend more time in the United States. Improved policies can further facilitate integration, especially amongst the groups that struggled to learn English.

    Further studies like this one, which survey and share what works best for successful refugee  integration and where we need further investment, are necessary to ensure our refugee resettlement program continues to transform refugees into fully functioning American citizens.

    While transitioning to a new country is exceptionally difficult, refugees make great strides annually and by the fourth year make it difficult to ascertain the difference between a refugee from Iraq or a native born American citizen. After a full decade, we can expect those gaps to be even slimmer.

    The results are clear: Colorado refugees are integrating soundly into American society.

    This post appeared on the Foundation for Economic Education. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    Matthew La Corte Matthew La Corte, is an immigration research policy analyst for the Niskanen Center, a free market think tank committed to bipartisan policy solutions in Washington, D.C.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      Matthew's title is misleading. He says, "Refugees in America Are Happy, Productive, and Integrating." But his article is based on a survey of refugees living in Colorado. I reached a very different conclusion looking at information about the lives refugees are living throughout the United States in my article, "What is the United States accomplishing with its refugee program?" (October 5, 2015), http://discuss.ilw.com/content.php?5...is-the-United- States-accomplishing-with-its-refugee-program-By-Nolan-Rappaport This is the conclusion I reached in my article:

      Conclusion. The United States has distinguished itself with its willingness to provide refuge and a permanent home for refugees, but its refugee program reaches less than one percent of the world’s refugees and its refugee program may not be meeting the needs of the ones who are taken. The best way to help the refugees would be to eliminate the problems that caused them to leave their home countries. Secretary Kerry is trying to do this with Syria by continuing his attempts to negotiate with Bashar al-Assad, and he has called on Russia and Iran to use their influence to convince him that he should agree to step down.

      According to Anna Crosslin, who has been honored as a White House Champion of Change for World Refugees, providing refugees with a safe haven in America is just the
      first step. We also must help them to thrive in the United States, not just to survive here. Self-sufficiency is an essential part of this, and doubt has been cast on whether
      the Refugee Resettlement Program is succeeding with its efforts to prepare refugees to become self-sufficient. The report from the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration,
      Border Security and Citizenship indicates that many, perhaps even most, refugees are subsisting on public assistance programs. Congressman Babin is right that we need to find out the extent to which refugees are relying on public assistance programs. It may be necessary to make major changes in the resettlement program. We are not bringing refugees to this country to support themselves and their families on welfare checks and food stamps, and our public assistance programs are facing financial jeopardy in the not too distant future. This is particularly true of Medicare costs. According to the 2015 Annual Report of the Medicare Board of Trustees, Medicare is facing a substantial financial shortfall already, and this will get much worse when the baby boomers reach
      old age and have end-of-life medical expenses. The solution is more young taxpayers. If the refugee resettlement program makes it possible for the refugees to find adequate employment, they will help to address the financial difficulties of our public assistance programs with the taxes they pay; but there doesn’t seem to be any reason for thinkingthat the program is being successful at doing this.
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