At World Relief Spokane, we are often asked why we believe resettling refugees is simply an act of compassion or if welcoming refugees can benefit our community in economically as well.
Here are the economics of refugee resettlement:
Refugees are given a loan from an international NGO (non-government organization) to purchase their airfare to their resettlement destination. After they’ve been in the country for six months, refugees begin repaying that loan until it is entirely paid back.
The State Department, via the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), provides funding to help with the cost of resettlement during the first three months a refugee is in the country. World Relief receives $1,000 for each individual and manages this money for them for their first 90 days in Spokane. Most often, we use the majority of this money to pay for a couple months of rent until the person can support themselves.
Refugees also qualify for state assistance programs just like other legal state residents. For example, soon after refugees arrive they can receive food stamps if they have low or no income, and some can also receive temporary cash assistance just like other residents of Washington state.
One of the objections we hear from people who are skeptical about refugees is they are afraid resettling refugees is a drain on our social services system. A recent study from the University of Notre Dame demonstrates that in the long-run refugees actually pay more into our social services than they take out. On average, the study found that refugees who live in the United States for 20 years, which most do, contribute $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in services. A further study, commissioned by President Trump and completed by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services showed that between 2005 and 2014 refugees contributed $63 billion more in federal and state taxes than they recieved.
While it would seem more cost-effective on the surface to assist refugees in their home regions, that does not take into account the fact that refugees spend an average of 10 years outside of their countries of origin. In contrast to the shorter, up-front cost of those resettled, refugees in these protracted situations require assistance over many years. Additionally, some refugees, especially women and children who have suffered trauma and abuse, would not be able to return to thier home countries due to medical difficulties or other cultural boundaries. The vast majority (72%) of refugees resettled in the United States are women in children in these situations.
We work closely with people at all levels of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. They tell us they love working with refugees because this group of people consistently moves beyond state assistance quickly to become self-sufficient and gives back to the community.
It is also worth pointing out that the funding to serve refugees does not take away from other kinds of social services. We have heard people suggest that helping refugees takes money away from funding that might otherwise help, for example, homeless veterans. But that’s not how state and federal funding works. We know many people who work with the homeless in Spokane and also with veterans. We support each other and there is not competition for funds between us.
Another objection we hear is that refugees are a drain on the economy. The truth is actually the opposite. Refugees are benefit to the economy. Often they fill low-skilled positions that American-born people don’t want. World Relief Spokane has an employment team who helps refugees find jobs in our area. We work with over 100 employers. Many of them call us when they have an opening because they have a hard time finding people who are willing to work night shifts at hotels or factories, and they have found that refugees work hard, do a good job, and show up to work consistently. After they improve their English, many refugees start small businesses and others are able to start working more skilled jobs like the ones they had prior to fleeing their home countries. For more information on refugee entrepreneurship and upward economic mobility, read this study from New American Economy.