MPI Report Examines Integration of Top Refugee Groups, Finding Little Evidence of Different Integration Outcomes Based on State of Residence
WASHINGTON — Some researchers have posited a “lottery effect,” whereby the integration outcomes of refugees vary based on the differing employment opportunities, housing cost and benefits available in states where newcomers are resettled. Yet a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report, which examines integration outcomes for five leading refugee groups in several key resettlement states, finds little evidence of a lottery effect within individual refugee groups based on state of residence.
The report, How Are Refugees Faring? Integration at U.S. and State Levels, identifies a number of metrics of integration, including education, income, poverty, English proficiency, public benefits usage and employment. The report also examines underemployment levels (also known as “brain waste”) among highly educated refugees. Using a unique MPI methodology that permits the study of refugees in U.S. Census Bureau data by assigning refugee status within the foreign-born population, the report compares the integration outcomes of Burmese, Cuban, Iraqi, Russian and Vietnamese refugees by individual group in four major resettlement states: California, Florida, New York and Texas.
"Perceptions of slow refugee integration, high benefit use rates and low employment levels have not, in general, been supported by the evidence,” said MPI President Michael Fix, an author of the report, one in a series from MPI's Transatlantic Council on Migration on the integration of refugees and asylum seekers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Yet even as the U.S. resettlement program’s strong “work-first” philosophy has led to high rates of employment for refugees, the focus on early employment rather than longer-term interventions such as recognition of academic and professional credentials or the provision of intensive English language training means these newcomers are far more likely to be working below their skill levels. This brain waste, faced by significant number of college-educated immigrants overall, is even more pronounced among high-skilled refugees.
The authors also examine the policy framework at U.S. and state levels, including eligibility for services and benefits, the sources of funding for refugee services and how service provision varies by state. Benefits can vary dramatically by state; for example a refugee family of three might receive a $789 monthly Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payment in New York, but just $281 in Texas.
Still, the researchers found that despite significantly different policy environments at the state level, “national origins, rather than settlement location, seem to be more highly correlated with how refugees fare across a range of socioeconomic indicators such as employment, underemployment and income.” While the report points to the extensive network of the nine voluntary agencies that resettle refugees, suggesting their integration support might effectively even out some state-to-state policy differences, the researchers note that sharp cuts proposed in refugee admissions will reduce the capacity of these civil-society organizations, as would potential reductions to social benefit programs.
“As the Trump administration advances steep cuts in refugee admission by executive order, seeks to expand the role of state and local governments in refugee placement and calls for studies of the long-term costs of refugees at all levels of government, it is important to understand how refugee populations fare across the United States and the integration challenges they may encounter,” the report concludes, suggesting the need for further study of integration policies and outcomes at state levels.
For the Transatlantic Council's series, "The Other Side of the Asylum and Resettlement Coin: Investing in Refugees’ Success along the Migration Continuum," click here.
# # #
The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.