How Are Refugees Faring? Integration at U.S. and State Levels
The United States has long operated the world’s largest refugee resettlement program, admitting nearly 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016. Over the years, those admitted have come from a wider range of countries and, as the cost of living rises in urban centers, increasingly been settled in small and medium-sized cities. Most find employment soon after arrival, in line with the resettlement program’s strong work-first philosophy. But as federal funding for many of the transitional assistance programs that help refugees find their footing in the United States fails to keep up with demand, states, local communities, and civil society have come under increased pressure to bridge the gaps.
While research has detailed how different refugee populations fare nationwide, less is known about how these newcomers fare across states—and, crucially, whether state policies affect their long-term integration.
Using a unique MPI methodology, this report analyzes census and administrative data to compare the state-level integration outcomes of five large refugee groups (Burmese, Cubans, Iraqis, Russians, and Vietnamese), including in terms of employment, income, education levels, English language proficiency, and public benefits usage.
Despite considerable variation in the generosity of public welfare programs in the study states (California, Florida, New York, and Texas), the authors conclude that the U.S. resettlement program’s “lottery effect” may be less pronounced than previously thought. National origins, rather than settlement location, seem to be more highly correlated with how refugees fare. And further research into other factors that may even out state-to-state policy differences—including refugee resilience, the work-first focus of the resettlement program, and the broad network of voluntary agencies—could foster understanding of the challenges to successful integration that different groups and their host communities face.
II. Policy Framework: How Does the United States Assist Newly Arrived Refugees?
A. Who Is Admitted to the United States as a Refugee?
B. What Services Does the United States Offer to Newly Arrived Refugees?
C. What Are the Sources of Funding for Refugee Services?
D. How Does Service Provision Vary by State?
III. What Is Known about Refugee Integration Outcomes at National and State Levels?
B. English Language Proficiency
C. Employment and Underemployment
D. Household Income, Poverty Rates, and Public Benefits Receipt