Who pays for refugees to travel to the United States?

Refugees do.

The money used to pay for refugee travel expenses is initially provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), via funds from the Department of State. However, this money for travel costs is provided to refugees as an interest-free loan, not a gift.  Refugees are expected to begin making payments on the loan six months after their arrival in the U.S., or when they have a reliable source of income.  They are held accountable to make payments until the loan is paid in its entirety.

 

How much money do refugees receive to begin their new life?

Each refugee individual receives a stipend of approximately $1100 from the federal government upon arrival in the United States.  (Thus, a family of five would receive $5500.) This money is meant to cover costs for three months.

That money actually goes to the refugee resettlement agency, not directly into the hands of the refugee.  The government sets stipulations for how that money must be used.  The resettlement agency must advise refugee clients that their stipend is meant for rent costs, furnishings, basic needs, bus passes, clothes, etc.  Since case workers must rent, furnish, and prepare an apartment for an incoming family before they even arrive, much of that money is already spent before the refugee even gets to the U.S.

Consider how much money you personally (or your family) spends in a month.  Consider the average monthly cost to rent an apartment in your city.  Could your family survive three months on $1100 per person?

 

Are there additional sources of funding and support?

Sometimes.  Obviously, $1100 is not really enough for an individual to live on for three months.  The resettlement agencies may also receive some extra funding through other government programs, grants, or private donations, but it is not much.  Ultimately, they must be creative and resourceful in the ways that they help their clients utilize and stretch the funds available.

There is also a federal program called “Matching Grant” that provides monetary incentives for early employment.  Not all refugees qualify or are enrolled for this program, but it does provide some additional assistance to some refugees.

 

Why is so little money provided to people who are often arriving with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs?

The U.S. resettlement program is designed to force refugees to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  Self-sufficiency is the end-goal for all refugees who resettle in the U.S.  The quicker they achieve self-sufficiency, the easier life will be for them in the long run.  However, for some refugees, three to six months is simply not enough time to become self-sufficient.  Most take about six months to one year to learn how to adjust to life in America and to begin gaining economic independence.

 

How soon can refugees begin working?

Refugees are authorized to work immediately, as soon as they arrive.  Of course, it takes a few days or weeks to get all the logistics in place in terms of orientation, transportation, job search, etc.  Refugees received employment readiness training and job search assistance so that they can begin working as soon as is possible.

 

Are most refugees actually working?

Yes, although they tend to move from job to job in the beginning, refugees actually have a fairly steady employment rate.  A study from 2009-2011 showed that refugee men were actually slightly more likely to be employed (66%) than their American counterparts (60%) while refugee women were employed at the same rate as American women.

Refugees are highly motivated and extremely eager to work.  Some have been dreaming for years of the moment when they can finally have a real job and earn their own money.   Many go on to become entrepreneurs, eventually opening up their own shops, restaurants, or small businesses.

 

What kinds of jobs do refugees typically get at first?

Dishwashers.  Housekeeping at hotels.  Janitors.  Car wash attendants.  Baggers at grocery stores. Interpreters (if fluent in English and educated).  Caregivers (if they can complete courses and get certification). Other entry-level, minimum wage jobs.  Occasionally, a highly educated or highly skilled refugee is able to get a higher paying job right away.  But the vast majority must start at the bottom and work their way up, regardless of previous education or skills.  These types of jobs tend to complement, rather than compete with, American workers.

 

Do refugees receive welfare?

Yes, especially in the first few years of their resettlement.  They must meet the same standards as any other individual in this country to qualify.  Typically, refugees receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) and Medicaid healthcare in the beginning until they start earning a livable wage.  Some families also qualify for additional benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  Children may also receive free lunches at school.

Few refugees arrive with money from home.  Most come with only a suitcase of possessions.  Their need for assistance is truly genuine, and it allows them to gain a foothold as they rebuild their lives little by little.

 

How long do refugees stay on welfare?

A study by the Migration Policy Institute suggests that refugees, although initially dependent on social services, fall away from this dependency as their length of time in the U.S increases.  Most refugees come from backgrounds that promote a strong work ethic.  They are willing to spend years working and saving for those things they once only dreamed about: a car, a house for their family, college education for their children.  Paying for those dreams requires steady employment and a livable income, which means that they are likely to work toward higher paying jobs and less likely to remain on welfare.  The study also showed that refugees who had been in the U.S. 10-20 years had a median income that was 87% of that of the U.S.-born population, demonstrating “falling public benefit dependency” and “increasingly positive fiscal contributions”.

 

How else are refugees contributors to our society?

Refugees pay taxes just like everyone else, from the very beginning of their life in the U.S.  As consumers, their purchases lead to increased profits for American businesses.  They take jobs that most Americans do not want.

They volunteer in their communities.  Provide foster care.  Give to the homeless.  Help other refugees.

Refugee children are perhaps the biggest contributors of all.  They are uniquely situated to understand true hardship and need, yet benefit most from the safety, education, and opportunity that the United States has to offer.  As they grow up, many naturally desire to “give back” to their own community and also to seek solutions for the situations that caused their family to become refugees in the first place.

Refugees want to be contributors.  The United States took them in when it seemed that their life was over.  They are grateful and often feel indebted.  They come with the intention of remaining for a lifetime, and are proud when they become citizens.  As a result, they have a desire to live in such a way that reflects their sense of gratitude.

 

How much money does the federal government spend on refugee resettlement each year?

An infinitesimal amount when compared to the overall federal spending.  The government currently spends about 582 million per year on refugee resettlement.  Total government spending in 2016 was approximately 3.54 trillion.  Thus, the current money spent on refugee resettlement is less than .02% (not 2%, not 0.2%, but .02%) of spending in 2016.  The percentage is similar for the last five years, except in 2012 when even less, .008%, of government spending went toward refugee resettlement.

As a point of comparison, if you spent approximately $50,000 per year on your household expenses, it would be like spending less than $10 of that $50,000 to give thousands of people safety, opportunity, and life (survival).

Or, to put it another way, there are approximately 122 million taxpayers in the U.S.  If we divide the amount of money spent on refugee resettlement by the number of tax payers, each tax payer contributes less than $5 to refugee resettlement each year.

 

Sources:

https://www.iom.int/countries/united-states-america

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/publications/Refugee-Facts-Oct-2015-FINAL.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/30/heres-how-much-the-united-states-spends-on-refugees/?utm_term=.738aa0dcdebf

http://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/the-u-s-refugee-resettlement-program-a-primer-for-policymakers.aspx

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Bauman, Soerens, Smeir).