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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

New Study Shows that Refugees May or May Not Be Good for the Economy

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Studies about immigrants and refugees tend to be a sort-of Rorschach test: For those who support higher levels of migration, they show that immigrants contribute positively to our society; for those who want to restrict immigration, the same studies demonstrate that new arrivals have a negative impact on our country.
Cost of resettling a refugee: $107,000. Taxes paid by said refugee: $130,00. Saving a human life: Priceless.

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that part of the problem is a lack of data. Where there is a dearth of information, we tend to fill-in the blank spaces with our own hopes and fears. Think of those medieval maps that showed fanciful creatures and fabulous kingdoms just past the borders of the known world.


The most recent attempt to quantify the economic impact of refugees comes from two professors at the University of Notre Dame: William N. Evans and Daniel Fitzgerald. Their paper, The Economic and Social Outcomes of Refugees in the United States, uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent five-year American Community Survey (2010-2014) to tease out the impact of refugees--as distinct from other immigrants--on the U.S. economy. The website Five Thirty Eight nicely summarizes the report's findings:

[R]esearchers pulled a sample of 18-to-45-year-olds who resettled in the U.S. over the past 25 years and examined how their employment and earnings changed over time. They found that the U.S. spends roughly $15,000 in relocation costs and $92,000 in social programs over a refugee’s first 20 years in the country. However, they estimated that over the same time period, refugees pay nearly $130,000 in taxes — over $20,000 more than they receive in benefits.

The authors found that, when compared to rates among U.S.-born residents, unemployment was higher and earnings were lower among adult refugees during their first few years in the country, but these outcomes changed substantially over time. After six years in the U.S., refugees were more likely to be employed than U.S.-born residents around the same age. The longer they live longer in the U.S., the more refugees’ economic outcomes improved and the less they relied on government assistance. While refugees’ average wages are never as high as the average for U.S.-born residents, after about eight years in the U.S., refugees aren’t significantly more likely to receive welfare or food stamps than native-born residents with similar education and language skills.

Responses to the report were predictable. The restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies questioned the study's methodology (Steven Camarota notes that the authors did not include costs associated with education, incarceration, and law enforcement and looked only at more productive, working-age refugees). The Migration Policy Institute viewed the report as evidence that resettlement agencies help refugees become self-sufficient more quickly. Both points seem worthy of further exploration, and I hope this report will help spark more discussion.


For my part, I have mixed feelings about the study. On the one hand, the whole idea of quantifying the economic impact of refugees seems like a vulgar exercise. We shouldn't be helping such people because we hope to gain a monetary benefit from them. We should help them because it is the right thing to do. Indeed, the notion that refugees should somehow be a financial boon to our economy debases the high ideals of our humanitarian immigration system.


On the other hand (and in the real world), I recognize that it is critical for us to understand the impact of refugees on our country--economically, socially, and in the national security context. The report by Professors Evans and Fitzgerald seems to be a valuable contribution to this effort. Only with more information about refugees can we create rational, fact-based policies. How many refugees and asylum seekers should we admit each year? How well do such people integrate into our community? How can we ease the transition so that migrants become self sufficient more quickly? The more information we have, the better equipped we will be to answer such questions.


To be sure, the economic aspect of refugee resettlement is only one part of the story. But it is important to better understand how refugees are integrating into our economy so we can help improve that process. It is also relevant (at least to some extent) to the debate about how many refugees we should be admitting into our country.


These days I am not feeling overly optimistic about the quality of our public conversation on refugees (or on any other topic). It is far more common to hear hyperbole, falsehoods, and ad hominem attacks in the immigration debate than it is to find sober analysis. But at least in the economic realm, I think this report is significant. It contributes to a mounting body of evidence suggesting that immigrants and refugees help our economy more than most restrictionists would have us believe. It is also a serious piece of analytic work at a time when seriousness is sorely lacking from the discussion.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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Comments

  1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    Interesting article. I am glad to see someone looking at our refugee program from different perspectives. I will add another one. Almost always a good idea when it comes to evaluating immigration policies.

    "
    What is the United States accomplishing with its refugee program?" http://discuss.ilw.com/content.php?5...olan-Rappaport

    Nolan Rappaport
    Updated 06-15-2017 at 06:42 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
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