Celebrating Refugees and Their Economic Contributions on World Refugee Day

On World Refugee Day, over 20 million refugees are currently in limbo around the world. Refugees flee their countries due to persecution, or fear of persecution, often taking only what they can carry and waiting years in refugee camps. Some are able to return home or stay in their countries of first asylum. But for those who can’t, resettlement is the option of last resort. Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled and the United States welcomes almost two-thirds of these refugees.

Refugee resettlement is not only our humanitarian obligation, it is also important to communities and local economies across the United States. International research has shown that refugees enter the workforce, boost native-born workers’ wages, and increase job opportunities. In Albuquerque, refugees make dish towels at a local textile business and grow produce to sell at the local markets. Refugees also become entrepreneurs — the modestly funded Microenterprise Development Program has helped refugees develop or expand over 10,000 small businesses with a high business survival rate of 88 percent over the last 20 years. Refugees are at least as likely to work as native-born workers, and their incomes rise to be about on par with native-born households over time.

We see these economic contributions in communities across the nation. For example, Columbus, Ohio and its surrounding Franklin County are home to more than 16,500 refugees from at least ten different countries. In this county, 14 percent of employed refugees are business owners, which is more than double the rate for the county’s general population. There are an estimated 873 refugee-owned businesses in the metropolitan area employing 3,960 workers. The total economic impact of refugee resettlement agencies, refugee workers, and refugee-owned businesses in the area is $1.6 billion per year.

Unfortunately, President Trump has threatened to reverse America’s long history of support for refugees by imposing a stricter cap on refugees and gutting funding for resettlement. His proposed travel ban would have temporarily halted all refugee admissions and capped the annual admissions at 50,000, less than half of the 110,000 target set by President Obama. Although the ban is stalled in the courts, the disruption caused by its botched rollout is expected to lead to a drop in admissions this year. Yet the threat is not over. President Trump is continuing his push for a cap of 50,000 refugees in his FY18 proposed budget, which would also drastically cut refugee resettlement funding.

Refugees come to America looking for a new life for themselves and their families, and in doing so they contribute to the economic vitality of this nation. Congress should ensure robust funding to resettle refugees so that refugees can continue to be important members of our economic community.

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