Project Refuge: Part Three
“Compassion and security can coexist.”
-Scott Arbeiter, President of World Relief
The phrase “Net Positive” is used to describe businesses that put more into society, the global economy, and the environment than they take out. The Net Positive ideal, in fact, is a legitimate movement spearheaded by The Net Positive Project. This project aims to create a world where our largest financial and corporate influencers have the freedom and ability to positively affect the world and the people in it. Stephan Bauman and associates use this phrase in their book Seeking Refuge to describe the economic impact of refugees in America, which is exactly what I'm going to talk about today.
I do not pretend to be an economic expert, despite my “A” in high school economics. Even so, today I want to talk about money and how there is a direct correlation between accepting immigrants and an increase in a country's cash flow. My goal is to approach the wound of fear and misunderstanding of immigrants in a very practical, very applicable way, and apply just enough pressure to that wound through facts and data to make the bleeding stop, and allow the wounded to hear, possibly for the first time, what might go in direct opposition to what they believe. If you find safety in your echo chamber Facebook feed, get ready for a new sound.
According to a recent study by WORLD Magazine, the most important voting issue during the last election for evangelical Christians was the economy. Over abortion, over human rights, and over immigration policy, evangelical Christians, as well as the majority of our country, voted paying more attention to their wallets than anything else. With 2016 barely behind us, memories of Brexit and the fears of “middle America” awakened and charged, it only seems natural that we can so easily associate immigrants with doubts surrounding our economy. And rightfully so, as immigrants can have a large impact on a country’s economy, though not as some fear-mongers would have people think.
A common misconception about refugee immigrants entering America is that they are a drain on the countries resources. Although many believe this to be true, economists repeatedly come to a near unanimous conclusion that refugees have a “net positive impact on the country that receives them” (Bauman et al). When we measure people by a Net Positive standard, we can substitute “philanthropist,” “good Samaritan,” and “humanitarian” for “net positive” and reach the same conclusion: Net Positive people are citizens who will positively impact any society.Unless the goal is to create a society that operates under the currency of fear and egocentrism, any Net Positive additions can only contribute to the wellbeing of a country, state, and even city.
It is impossible to live in America without coming into direct contact with the positive impact of refugees in this country. If you’ve ever had your nails done, for example, there is a 50/50 chance this has been done by a refugee immigrant, or by a US citizen from a family of refugee immigrants. As pointed out by economists Maya Federman, David Harrington, and Kathy Krynski, Vietnamese refugees created the walk-in nail salon zeitgeist, expanding an already existing but small industry and making it a service accessible to people nationwide, generating new wealth in the process. In fact, according to nailsmag.com, Vietnamese nail salons represent more than half the U.S. nail industry (in addition, Vietnamese Americans are more likely to be employed than the average American, and have “slightly higher household incomes, on average” (Bauman, et al)).
Unsurprisingly, refugees have an outstanding work record. People who desire a new life are painfully aware that it will have to be worked for. Refugee immigrants are not abandoning everything they have ever known expecting to be pampered and coddled; they know what it will take to start over, and what it will cost. In fleeing they have already paid the greatest cost. They are not leaving their homes, their jobs, and sometimes even their families simply to ride through life letting the American government pick up the tab (which it doesn’t). Short-term support is available for refugee immigrants, but the timespan for support is short and financial autonomy is expected within a year of arrival.
According to The Integration Outcomes of US Refugees: Successes and Challenges by Randy Capps and his associates at the Migration Policy Institute, refugee men are more likely to be employed than their US born male counterparts. Refugee and US women work at equal rates. This does not necessarily reflect poorly on the native-born American work force, but does contend to the willingness and desire for incoming refugees to work and support themselves, their families, and contribute to this country. If you’ve ever worked a labor-intensive job, it’s likely that a refugee has worked a job below you to support your work, even though many refugees are far over-qualified. Immigrant workers, unsurprisingly, are more willing to take lower-paid labor based jobs that actually compliment many jobs held by US citizens, and do not compete with them (remember- I am discussing refugee immigrants who have entered the country legally, and therefore legally obtain work in America).
Since nearly a third of all refugees entering the United States are under the age of 18, and those over 18 still have a median age of just 25, we are welcoming in a new generation of American workers. Sure, there are upfront costs for education and resettlement, which can be very expensive. Compared to their future work-life, those costs are miniscule and do not compare to the amount that each worker will contribute in taxes throughout his or her life, in addition to contributions to his or her community. Any good investment requires up-front payment that, in cases like refugees, more than pays off in the long run. Given that these children will be educated in America (some of them could even be taught trade-skills), we can expect them to be valuable contributors to current jobs, but also to be entrepreneurs and creators of new jobs for all Americans. Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin fled the Soviet Union with his family when he was six, and is now responsible for the employment of tens of thousands of people worldwide.
One thing that many people do not know, that I had never really thought of, is that by the time a refugee has made it through the US vetting process, he or she is already on the path to citizenship. So, when we allow refugees in, we are actually allowing in future taxpayers, workers, and contributors to our society. There is a very short period where they are supported by the government (much of the money comes to them as loans which they must pay back), but the goal is for each new family to become fully self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Potentially, a refugee can become a full US citizen just 5 years after he or she arrives in the country. Refugee, then, is only a temporary status that can, somewhat quickly, be transferred to full citizenship.
It is very common in the Midwest, and I’m sure nationally, to walk into a gas station, a liquor store, or a small grocery store and see a dark-skinned man or woman behind the counter. Upon checking out, a thick accent is noted. These stores are often open on American holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, instantly setting them apart from other businesses. It is easy for people to assume that these are greedy foreigners who are only concerned about making money. It is easy for people with a Western mindset to view these businesses as invasive and un-American. I challenge those thinkers to question themselves: what is American? Who is American? How can certain parts of the country possibly be more American than others? If, in answering these questions, immigrants who account for 13% of the American population do not cross the mind, then the America you see is not an accurate depiction of the America that exists. If there has to be a difference between us and them, between natives and immigrants, a difference beyond our color and our language, why can't that difference be positive?