Sumyog and Sameek, brothers from Nepal, after they joined Hello Neighbor in Pittsburgh, PA in 2018.

5 Reasons Why Refugee Resettlement Matters

For anyone who has met or worked with refugees in their communities, this much is clear: refugee resettlement matters in the United States.

Rachel Vinciguerra
Sep 2, 2020 · 6 min read

For anyone who has met or worked with refugees in their communities, this much is clear: refugee resettlement matters in the United States.

It matters to individuals, families, and our communities. And we know that collaboration and exchange between U.S.-born people and refugees is mutually beneficial.

Often, the most effective way to understand the journey of refugees and the ways in which they positively impact U.S. communities is through their stories. And the best way to hear stories is to meet people and develop real relationships with them. But if we zoom out a bit and look at the data, the case for refugees is still very clear and for the sake of brevity, it can be summed up into five main talking points.

First, let’s get on the same page with definitions:

  • The term “refugee” was defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention following World War II. It outlined the rights of displaced people and legal obligations of states around the world and was universally ratified by all of the members of the United Nations.
  • Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their own country because of persecution, war, or violence. They come to the U.S. fully vetted and are available to immediately start working and pay taxes. They are eligible to apply for green cards after one year and pay for those green cards if they receive them.
  • Refugees are eligible to apply for citizenship after 5 years in the U.S.
  • Special Immigration Visas (shorthand known as SIVs) are given to Iraqi or Afghan citizens who worked for the U.S. government in their home country. They put their lives — and often the lives of their families — at risk working alongside our military and part of that contract was they could receive safe passage to the U.S. for their support in fighting the war on terror.
  • Asylees or asylum seekers flee their own countries to seek sanctuary in another country and apply for the right to be recognized as a refugee once they reach a new country.
  • SIVs and Asylees face many of the same barriers and life-threatening challenges as refugees.

Alright, so what does the situation look like today and why does refugee resettlement and support matter in our communities and country?

1. Worldwide, more people are displaced from their home today than in WWII

  • Worldwide today, more than 79 million people have been forcibly displaced. Of those, 26 million are refugees, the majority are families and around half are under the age of 18.
  • While refugees come from a number of countries around the world, 63% of refugees come from just five countries (listed in order of most refugees): Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar
  • One person is displaced every two seconds every single day.
  • The amount of people displaced every day could fill a baseball stadium!

2. The U.S. led refugee resettlement worldwide until 2017, today 85% of refugees are hosted in developing countries

  • The President is responsible for setting the refugee number each year and does not need congressional approval to increase or decrease that number.
  • Presidents over the past five administrations (including Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) set the ceiling at at least 100,000.
  • This refugee resettlement program formally began in 1980 with the passage of a bipartisan congressional act formalizing the refugee resettlement program that we still have today.
  • For fiscal year 2020, the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. is capped at the lowest level in history: 18,000
  • As of August 21, with a little more than one month left of the fiscal year, only 8,572 refugees have been admitted to the U.S.
  • Other countries that have established resettlement programs include: Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Sweden, Norway, andGermany among many others.

3. U.S. resettlement relies on a web of support including grassroots nonprofits

  • Many refugees do not have a choice in the location where they are resettled (in some cases they might be settled with family, in others they may not).
  • The U.S. vetting process is one of the most rigorous in the world and takes a minimum of 24 months with the U.S. government. The average is 5 years but it can even be upwards of 20.
  • Upon arrival in the U.S., refugees are met at the airport by one of nine resettlement agencies that hold a contract with the U.S. Department of State. These agencies arrange for housing and basic needs.
  • The Reception and Placement program with these agencies lasts for just 60–90 days and covers basic services such as initial housing, school enrollment, job placement, and setting up medical care.
  • Grassroots nonprofits, fueled by passionate staff and volunteers, step in to support refugees in their communities with social connections, education, healthcare, housing, and more after the initial three months. This support is the difference between surviving and thriving for many families.
  • Our study of refugees in the Hello Neighbor Network found that 100% of refugees agreed grassroots organizations make people in their community feel more welcome.

4. Refugees face a variety of structural barriers when they arrive in the U.S.

  • Refugees arrive with a variety of skills, but many do not speak English, have limited financial resources, and are expected to payback their airfare from country of origin.
  • Refugees often do not know where to access support services and face discrimination.
  • Many refugee children face challenges adapting to school due to missed years of education in the resettlement process, language barriers, and bullying. This is especially true for girls who face the largest burden of caring for their family during displacement and are more likely to have substantial gaps in their education.
  • According to a study by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD, it is estimated that as many as 84% of refugees in the U.S. have PTSD (a rough estimate because of stigma and language barriers, this varies by country of origin)

5. Refugees have a positive impact on U.S. communities and economies

  • Refugees have higher entrepreneurship rates (13%) than the U.S.-born population (9%) providing jobs and services for other refugees and U.S.-born people.
  • Refugees have a higher employment rate than the U.S.-born population providing a needed workforce in their top two employment fields: manufacturing and healthcare.
  • Refugees have revitalized key areas of the country, especially in “Rust Belt” cities.
  • Our study found that after participation with grassroots nonprofits in the Hello Neighbor Network, U.S. volunteers had more diverse connections not only with refugees but also people of different political affiliations, literacy, income, and education levels, and faith traditions.
  • Our study also found that 93% of volunteers believe connecting with refugees through their organization reduces polarization in their community.

The global and national data tell one compelling and important story that should be shared widely.

An even better way to learn about and support refugees is to get connected with grassroots organizations in your own community. These community-based organizations are crucial to the fabric of cities and neighborhoods and stay connected with refugees long after government support has tapered off.

Hello Neighbor Network members at the first annual convening.

The Hello Neighbor Network has eight fantastic organizations where you can get started in Alabama, D.C., Florida, Montana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Here are a list of another 43 refugee and immigrant advocates to know highlighted by our Founder, Sloane Davidson.

So the next time someone asks you why refugee resettlement matters in the U.S., you’ll have plenty to say!

Hello Neighbor Network

The Hello Neighbor Network is a collective of grassroots nonprofits serving refugees.

Hello Neighbor Network

The Hello Neighbor Network is a collective of grassroots nonprofits serving refugees and immigrants. The Network provides organizations with a supportive peer network, education, resources and skills to better serve their mission and contribute to the national conversation.

Rachel Vinciguerra

Written by

Author, social worker, yogi, podcaster and manager of the Hello Neighbor Network for nonprofits leaders with a mission to grow empathy and connection.

Hello Neighbor Network

The Hello Neighbor Network is a collective of grassroots nonprofits serving refugees and immigrants. The Network provides organizations with a supportive peer network, education, resources and skills to better serve their mission and contribute to the national conversation.