From Persecution to Poverty: The Costs of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program’s Narrow Emphasis on Early Employment

Written by Noor Daewood; Edited by Carolyn Chu, Stephanie McLeod, and Mark Reinardy


In U.S. policy and practice, early employment is the foremost priority for domestic refugee resettlement. This approach to resettlement has revealed itself as short-sighted, however. By pushing refugees to focus time and energy on attaining immediate employment, the program deprives them of opportunities to enhance their long-term well-being. This paper examines the flaws of the current system, and offers recommendations to improve refugees’ prospects for economic stability.


Consider the profiles of two families recently resettled under the United States refugee resettlement program. The Kos are a young Burmese couple who arrived in the U.S. with four young children.1 They lived in a refugee camp at the Thai–Burmese border for twenty years prior to resettlement. Health conditions in the camp were poor and access to medical care was scarce. Neither of the Ko adults has any formal schooling or English language ability. The Abouds, an Iraqi couple in their early fifties, arrived in the U.S. with two adult children, aged 18 and 21.2 Before the war, Mr. Aboud worked as a veterinarian and Mrs. Aboud as a physician. Like other Iraqis, they were exposed to frequent violence in Iraq and, fearing for their safety, fled to Jordan three years prior to their application for resettlement in the United States. Unable to obtain legal work in Jordan, and helping to support family and friends left behind in Iraq, the family exhausted its savings.

Despite their vast differences, the U.S. government will hold the Kos and the Abouds subject to a largely identical resettlement plan, centered around one key criterion: a requirement that both families prioritize immediate employment upon arrival in the United States. The Kos will receive cash assistance via the federal welfare program for families with dependents, but this amount is unlikely to cover their basic needs in New York City. Without assets, they will be compelled to enter the workforce as soon as possible, at the expense of mastering English, building professional skills, and sufficiently addressing chronic medical conditions.

Mr. and Mrs. Aboud will also be forced to enter the workforce rapidly to support their family. But without dependents (children under age 18), their situation may be even more pressing: Eight months after arrival to the U.S., they will be cut off from all refugee cash and medical assistance. Despite their extensive professional training and experience, the Abouds will have to accept low-paying, menial jobs, as the resettlement program does not grant refugees the time and resources to seek professional recertification. Though the Aboud children had hopes for higher education, they will not have this opportunity upon arrival in the U.S.; they, too, will need to seek employment in order to qualify for refugee assistance.

In U.S. policy and practice, early employment is the foremost priority for domestic refugee resettlement. The federal refugee program states this unequivocally in its contractual agreement with local resettlement agencies: “The principal objective of the resettlement plan shall be assisting the refugee to obtain early employment.”3 The intent of this construct is to promote early self-sufficiency, and also to signal to the American public that the nation’s generosity is contingent on refugees’ reciprocal hard work. This approach to resettlement has revealed itself as short-sighted, however. The experiences of recently resettled refugees demonstrate the dire need for greater support to improve their chances for long-term economic stability. As one recent Iraqi refugee stated: “We [have already] lost everything. Give us more than eight months to build our lives.”4

This report seeks to shed light on the costs of the U.S. refugee resettlement program’s myopic focus on immediate employment. By requiring that newly arrived refugees pursue immediate employment, the government compromises refugees’ ability to recover from physical and emotional trauma and to adapt to their new surroundings. Further, this policy deprives refugees of opportunities to acquire knowledge, skills, and credentials necessary to ensure long-term economic prosperity. Refugees are consequently channeled into the same circumstances that plague the nation’s poor, thus perpetuating experiences of hardship for themselves, their communities, and broader U.S. society.


A “refugee” is defined by U.S. law as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin due to “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”5 As articulated by immigration law experts Stephen Legomsky and Cristina Rodriguez, “It is difficult to imagine a class of people who deserve a humanitarian response more so than genuine refugees. Persecuted, generally homeless, and by definition unable to turn to their own governments for protection, refugees are utterly dependent on the good will of the people and the government of foreign lands.”6 Among the estimated 15.2 million individuals who meet these criteria worldwide, the U.S. State Department admits only those deemed to be the most vulnerable.7

Given these experiences, most refugees arrive in the U.S. with a broad array of complex needs. The vast majority of refugees arrive with very few, if any, assets, and most also lack family or other networks in the U.S. to provide material or social support.8

On principle (and by law, as detailed further below), the U.S. government has an obligation to actively support refugees following resettlement—one that it does not have toward non-refugee immigrants. The international concept of refugee resettlement is premised on humanitarian aid; the more desperate an individual’s circumstances, the more likely it is that he or she will qualify for admission by the U.S. or other third-party resettlement countries. As such, the U.S. accepts refugees knowing that they lack resources to rebuild their lives, and that they have significant mental health and other health needs; the subtext for acceptance is an agreement of support. This is the converse of admission requirements for other immigrants to the U.S., for whom the principal criterion is self-sufficiency. Non-refugee immigrants are required to demonstrate long-term financial self-sufficiency as a prerequisite for receiving a visa; those without personal assets must have a U.S. sponsor legally commit to supporting them for at least their first ten years in the country.

Given their high level of need, resettled refugees are heavily dependent on the government for support following their relocation. As detailed below, the U.S. government’s generosity in providing an escape for large numbers of the world’s most vulnerable is commendable. But providing physical refuge is only part of the equation; the extent to which refugees are supported in rebuilding their lives after physical relocation is critical to successful resettlement.


We are committed to helping resettle refugees who face the most difficult circumstances. Americans have done that time and again, welcoming more than 2.5 million refugees into our communities since the Refugee Act became law. It goes to the core of who we are as a people and a country.

—Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on World Refugee Day, June 2010

The United States first formalized its commitment to refugee resettlement via passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, which remains the legislative basis for U.S. refugee resettlement today. Since that time, the U.S. has positioned itself as the world leader in providing refuge to individuals fleeing persecution, accepting nearly three million refugees since 1975 from at least 70 countries of origin.9 In 2009, the U.S. admitted 74,654 refugees—more than 70 percent of refugees accepted for resettlement that year worldwide.10 While the U.S. could arguably still do more to assist the world’s refugee population,11 the nation has unquestionably made a significant contribution to the international resettlement system.12

Mirroring international standards,13 the Refugee Act established the oft-debated criteria for refugee status, as well as a quota system for refugee admissions. Refugee acceptance priorities historically have been openly political in nature; the large majority of admissions in past decades were allocated to individuals seeking to escape communist regimes.14 In recent years, however, U.S. refugee priorities have increasingly shifted away from this political model, instead emphasizing acceptance of the world’s most vulnerable populations.15 The three largest groups accepted in 2010 were Iraqis, Burmese, and Bhutanese, in that order.

Of central importance to this report, the Refugee Act also created the United States Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP), an interagency program coordinating all phases of U.S. refugee resettlement. Domestic components of USRAP resettlement are administered by the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within the Department of Social Services, and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), a division of the Department of State. For simplicity, this report will use “USRAP” to refer to all federal resettlement functions.

The actual provision of social services to refugees is administered by ten nonprofit resettlement agencies contracted by USRAP, with 350 affiliated offices dispersed throughout the country.16 These agencies are typically responsible for assisting refugees with transitional needs during their first few weeks in the U.S. Some agencies continue to provide resettlement assistance beyond the initial adjustment period, depending on the given state’s resettlement agreement and the agency’s administration of any extra federal grant programs.17

Each refugee family is assigned to a resettlement site and a nonprofit resettlement agency prior to departure for the U.S. Upon arrival, a one-time “Reception and Placement” (R&P) grant allocation is used to meet each family’s basic needs—such as food, housing, furniture, housewares, and clothing—for their first thirty to ninety days,18 and to fund the resettlement agency’s coordination of these services and registering the family for food stamps and other public assistance programs for which they may be eligible (such as TANF, Medicare, or Social Security Insurance [SSI]).19 The total R&P allocation per refugee is $1,800 (a doubling of the allocation provided prior to January 2010).20

In addition to the R&P grant, refugees are entitled to monthly cash and medical assistance. Individuals and families without dependents are eligible to receive up to eight months21 of this support via the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) and Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) programs. The RCA provides approximately $345 each month for individuals, $541 for couples, and $694 for a family of three.22 USRAP (via the Office of Refugee Resettlement) also operates some additional discretionary resettlement grant programs administered on an ad hoc basis in select regions.

Families with dependents (children under the age of 18) that meet general program requirements (income and assets must total below a maximum amount, and individuals must be actively seeking employment) receive cash assistance via state-administered Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs,23 and medical assistance through Medicaid. TANF grant amounts and requirements can vary significantly from state to state.24 Families that continue to meet TANF requirements may receive cash assistance for up to five years (the federal lifetime maximum), though states may have shorter program limits.25 There is no time limit for Medicaid as long as families continue to meet state-specific requirements.26


The centerpiece of the U.S. resettlement construct is early employment. In the agency’s most recent Annual Report to Congress, the ORR articulates the fundamental program objective as assisting refugees to “attain economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after their arrival.”27 This quick-to-work ethos is closely aligned with U.S. antipoverty programs for the general population that prioritize expedient transition to self-sufficiency.28

Every dimension of the resettlement program is designed to encourage early workforce engagement and deter long-term reliance on public assistance. As a central component, all refugees between the ages of 18 and 64 are required to be actively seeking employment in order to qualify for cash assistance (via RCA or TANF), and are obligated to accept the first job offered.29 Once a refugee becomes employed, cash assistance ceases, regardless of the employee’s wage or the stability of employment.30

Refugees who do not find work (as is increasingly the case in the current recession) continue to receive cash assistance (RCA or TANF) during the initial eight months. However, refugee resettlement caseworkers and recent studies on resettlement indicate that this assistance is often far too little to support families’ subsistence.31 For example, one study notes: “A family of five in Detroit will receive $698 per month, but they are forced to pay a $600 rent to comply with local housing laws that require five people to live in a three bedroom home. In San Diego, a family of four receives $862 per month, but the rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $850.”32 Similarly, an informational handout supplied to U.S. resettlement applicants in Cairo warns, “Cash and other assistance provided to refugees by the government generally is not enough to fully support a family.”33 The strain of attempting to support one’s family on such limited assistance creates an added push for refugees to expedite their entry to the workplace, frequently at the expense of meeting basic transitional needs or pursuing opportunities that would further their success in the long run.

For refugees without dependents and who are not able to find work within the eight-month period, the consequences are dire. Cash and medical assistance end at the eight-month mark; refugees without jobs or other public assistance (e.g., SSI, Medicare) must rely on family or friends for support. This fact, combined with low levels of cash assistance for families receiving TANF, mean many refugee families are left in desperate circumstances.34 Anecdotal evidence suggests that significant numbers of refugee families have not been able to support their basic needs, with many falling victim to homelessness.35 Media outlets and recent reports on refugee experiences depict story after story of individuals and families who have reached such grim economic circumstances.36 In September 2009, a group of Iraqi refugees protested outside of the Arizona capitol in Phoenix, carrying signs that read: “Real hell in Iraq better than false paradise of America.”37 The protesting refugees reported that they had not been able to find stable work, and some were on the brink of homelessness. In San Diego, the Muslim community has stepped forward to support homeless Iraqi refugees (though most Iraqi refugees in San Diego County are not Muslim), finding that the demand for assistance overwhelmed the community’s capacity.38

USRAP’s principal data point for gauging resettlement success is short-term employment.39 By this data, refugee resettlement appears to be relatively successful. As of October 2007 (the most recent national data publicly available), 56.8 percent of sampled refugees over the age of 16 who had been in the U.S. less than five years were employed, compared to 63 percent in the general U.S. population.40 Of sampled refugees, 64.5 percent were considered “entirely self-sufficient” (i.e., not reliant on public assistance).

However, employment alone does not connote economic security, stability, or progress in other areas of integration necessary for long-term success. ORR staff acknowledge that short-term employment outcomes currently tracked by the agency are not predictive of refugees’ long-term stability and prosperity.41 Similarly, a European Union task force on refugees states: “Integration in the labour market is…about appropriate and sustainable employment, not just work full stop.”42

Virtually no study has attempted to track the long-term outcomes of resettled refugees.43 However, recent studies show that many refugees who are considered successfully employed by USRAP standards are struggling to support their families. Most jobs accepted by refugees are low-wage, low-skilled positions with minimal benefits and job security. Common examples include work in janitorial services, assembly lines, hospitality (e.g., hotel cleaning), daycare, construction, and retail.44 A large proportion of refugees are hired for seasonal or temporary positions. Refugee wages reflect the low-skilled jobs most occupy. A 2007 survey commissioned by the ORR found that the average household income for refugee families who had been in the U.S. for two to seven years was $20,000 to $23,000 per year.45 With an average household size of four in this sample, this is just about equivalent to the poverty threshold of that time, and less than a third of the average household income for a family of four in the U.S. in 2007. The Insight Center for Economic Development estimates that a family of four living in Sacramento County (one of the three areas surveyed in the ORR study) requires an income of at least $49,624 for each of two adults to support the family’s “minimal basic needs.”46


USRAP’s heavy emphasis on immediate self-sufficiency is short-sighted. By pushing refugees to focus time and energy on attaining immediate employment, the program deprives them of opportunities to enhance their long-term well-being. The existing construct constrains refugee achievement in three principal ways:

1) Refugees are not provided adequate opportunities to develop professional and English-language skills.

While refugees are generally motivated to seek stable employment in the U.S., many arrive with little or no prior work experience or education, having lived in refugee camps or otherwise dire circumstances for many years.47 Others arrive with specialized training or skills for which there is little demand in the U.S. or an oversupply in the labor market. The UNHCR Refugee Resettlement Handbook notes that an important factor in ensuring long-term economic self-sufficiency is “the availability of support to enable participation in . . . further education and training in preparation for employment or advancement in the labour market.”48 However, as a consequence of USRAP’s rapid employment requirements, refugees have little opportunity to develop professional skills prior to entering the workforce. Though local resettlement agencies receive funding via Refugee Social Services to provide a range of pre-employment support services, low funding means that agencies often can only afford to provide the most basic services, such as job search assistance and basic language training. 49

Further, the current resettlement construct often does not supply sufficient English-language training to refugees before they enter the workforce. With a large proportion of refugees arriving with little or no English ability (57.7 percent of refugee arrivals in 2007 reported that they spoke no English at all),50 language training is a critical component in the path to long-term self-sufficiency. However, one study cautioned that the early employment requirement leaves adult refugees with “little or no time to become even remotely functional in English.”51 Some sources have also reported that the quality and supply of English-language training at some resettlement sites is lacking.52 Without first allowing refugees time to learn English before accepting full-time employment, individuals are cornered into accepting jobs not matched to their experience and qualifications. For example, one refugee reports: “My English was funny at this time and I took a job as a cleaner in hairdressers. No one believed that back home I was an engineer.”53 Once refugees begin employment, they face steep practical barriers (time and resources, such as transportation) to attending language classes.

2) Refugees are not provided adequate opportunity to recover from physical and mental trauma before entering the workforce.

Most refugees come to the U.S. after years of living in circumstances of poor sanitation, violence, and/or limited access to medical care. As a consequence, refugees have unusually high rates of chronic conditions that inhibit daily functioning.54 Mental health is also a prevalent concern among refugees; as is no surprise, a high percentage have experienced extreme hardship that puts them at great risk for mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.55 Many refugees have spent years in prison prior to resettlement and/or have been victims of torture, violence, or rape. A 2008 UN survey of 754 Iraqi refugees in Syria found that 89 percent of refugees suffered depression.56 Eighty percent and 72 percent reported witnessing a shooting or car bombing, respectively, and 75 percent knew someone who had been killed. The UNHCR estimates that one in five Iraqi refugees were themselves victims of torture or violence.

Refugee families without dependents are entitled to Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) for only the first eight months following their arrival. Individuals with debilitating mental health or medical conditions may qualify for Social Security Insurance (SSI) on an ongoing basis. For all others, the only possible sources of medical insurance are Medicaid (with stringent eligibility requirements) or employer-supplied medical benefits. An ORR study of refugees who had arrived within the last five years showed that only 18.5 percent of surveyed refugees received medical coverage through their jobs.57 It can be inferred that a large proportion of refugees without dependents are left without medical insurance coverage following their initial eight months in the U.S.58

For many refugees, arrival in the United States represents their first opportunity to access mental health treatment.59 USRAP’s early employment construct, however, does not allocate time or resources for new refugees with serious mental health needs to receive necessary treatment before entering the workforce.60 Further, the supply of mental health treatment options is insufficient in some regions; torture treatment centers and mental health clinics often have long waitlists, particularly in areas with high concentrations of recent refugees. The language barrier and insufficient access to transportation also complicate refugees’ access to necessary care.

A failure to devote adequate attention to serious mental health and medical needs can inhibit refugees’ ability to find and maintain employment. Clinicians who work with Iraqi refugees in Dearborn, Michigan, report that many refugees are unable to hold jobs once they get them.61 They lament that resources going toward helping refugees obtain employment go to waste when refugees’ critical treatment needs are not met. One resettlement caseworker in Dearborn stated: “I wish for the new refugees [that] we could give them enough time so they could get treatment—help—and then put them to work.”62

3) Refugees are discouraged from pursuing professional recertification and secondary education.

The immediate-employment policy unfavorably impacts not only refugees who arrive with high needs and little education or employment skills, but also those who experienced relative success in their home countries. A significant subset of refugees arrive in the U.S. with professional degrees or several years of professional training. However, the current U.S. resettlement program does not accommodate support for individuals to become recertified or to complete their training in the U.S.63 Recertification for many professional degrees can be a lengthy and sometimes expensive process;64 most refugees do not have the requisite funds to support themselves through the process and often require assistance to navigate U.S. certification systems.65 These challenges are compounded by the fact that all refugees—including those with professional backgrounds—are required to seek employment immediately following resettlement and must accept the first job offered.66 The U.S. Government Accountability Office, in a report to Congress on Iraqi refugee resettlement, writes: “According to an ORR official and resettlement agency officials, the U.S. resettlement program does not take into account refugees’ prior work experience and education in job placements. Rather, the focus of the program is on securing early employment for refugees.”67

Without support to pursue accreditation and recertification, highly educated and experienced refugees are forced to accept jobs that are ill-matched to their abilities and qualifications. As noted in a 2010 Columbia University study on U.S. resettlement, a failure to support refugees in recertification “disempowers highly skilled refugees and deprives their new communities of valuable human capital.”68

This challenge has been particularly relevant to the experience of recent Iraqi refugee arrivals. Refugee resettlement workers report that the Iraqi population is among the most highly educated refugee populations they have served.69 As one study of Iraqi refugee resettlement indicated, “Many Iraqis pointed out that their potential is being wasted and that they could make greater contributions to American society if they were given sufficient time and resources to recertify in their professions.”70

USRAP’s discouragement of higher education also extends to the young adult children of resettled refugees. Here, too, U.S. resettlement policy requires the attainment of immediate employment, forcing young adults to forgo aspirations of attending college or completing studies initiated prior to resettlement. The “Cooperative Agreement” between USRAP and all contracted resettlement agencies indicates: “For each employable refugee, the principal objective of the resettlement plan shall be assisting the refugee to obtain early employment,” with “employable refugee” defined as “any refugee who is between the ages of 18 and 64.”71 Nowhere in the agreement are resettlement agencies instructed to encourage or support young refugees in pursuing higher education. A study by the Women’s Refugee Commission on resettled refugee youth reported: “The delegation met with a number of young people who wanted to go to school, but instead had to get a job immediately to help support their family. This was especially true for those who came with only a mother and siblings. […] The primary goal of resettlement is selfsufficiency, not education.”72

Forcing refugees to forgo professional recertification, higher education, or professional training for entry-level employ-ment has had particularly detrimental effects in the current economic recession.73 As unemployment in the U.S. remains high, individuals applying for entry-level jobs must compete with overqualified workers; this presents a particular challenge for newly arrived refugees, most of whom are automatically disadvantaged in labor competition with Americans, due to their relatively poor English language ability and a lack of U.S. work experience.74


As evidenced above, USRAP’s existing construct and philosophical approach to resettlement do not promote the longterm self-sufficiency and prosperity of refugees. Instead, refugees are systematically channeled into the same conditions that have perpetuated cycles of poverty in American communities throughout the country’s history. Low educational attainment, unstable and low-wage employment, untreated medical and mental health conditions—these are the circumstances that describe the struggle of many recently resettled refugees in the U.S. Adjoined with these factors are the collateral consequences of poverty: poor housing conditions, social isolation, health disparities, poor-quality schools, substance abuse, and exposure to crime, to name a few.

The grim reality of refugee resettlement raises both moral and practical concerns for the nation. Morally, the U.S.’s commitment to take in the world’s most vulnerable families cannot be disassociated from an obligation to support those individuals’ successful recovery upon relocation. Unlike the country’s relation to other immigrants, the U.S. accepts refugees with full knowledge that they lack assets and skills necessary to rebuild their lives and, further, have suffered extreme adversities that set them back in this process. In failing to sufficiently support their transition, the U.S. government actively generates conditions that degrade human dignity and promote the continuation of hardship for future generations.

Practically, adding refugees to the ranks of America’s poor has lasting detrimental effects for greater U.S. society. Greater numbers of individuals and families struggling to meet their basic needs mean a greater strain on public services. For example, individuals without medical care turn to expensive emergency rooms for care, and families without sufficient cash flow remain reliant on public benefits. Perhaps even more significant, failing to adequately support refugees in their pursuit of economic security represents a missed opportunity for the nation. Prosperous residents contribute to the country’s tax base and, through their purchasing power, to the broader economic good.75 Educated, healthy, and successful individuals enrich a society with their productivity and innovation. Failing to meet refugees’ pressing needs upon arrival—before pushing them into the workforce—greatly reduces the U.S.’s chances of reaping these invaluable benefits for its citizenry.


We simply cannot sacrifice the long-term investments that we so desperately need to generate long-term prosperity. Just as a cash-strapped family may cut back on luxuries but will insist on spending money to get their children through college, so we as a country have to make current choices with an eye on the future.

—President Barack Obama, Georgetown University, April 2009

For the first time since 1980, comprehensive refugee resettlement reform may finally be receiving its due attention. The National Security Council under the Obama Administration has created a working group of various government and non-government stakeholders aimed at examining critical challenges in domestic resettlement.76 This effort has already generated some positive outcomes: In December 2009, Congress passed legislation enacting some small but critical improvements to the resettlement system, such as a doubling of the one-time R&P grant allocated to refugees in their initial transition period (from $900 to $1,800).

As the National Security Council seeks to build on these reforms, this report contributes the following recommendations for consideration.77

The USRAP Should:

  • Reorient its mission away from immediate selfsufficiency, toward improving refugees’ prospects for long-term economic stability.
  • Extend the duration of refugees’ benefits well beyond eight months to allow greater opportunity for orientation, treatment, language training, and professional development.
  • Increase its allocation of cash assistance to refugees, as necessary, to adequately provide for basic needs during their initial adjustment period in the U.S.
  • Amend its policy to encourage the pursuit of higher education, particularly among young refugees.
  • Expand its Career Development Program to include all refugees who would benefit from professional recertification support.
  • Offer professional development and training to refugees during their initial resettlement period.
  • Commission a longitudinal study to track longterm refugee outcomes.


Noor Dawood is a master’s student at the Goldman School of Public Policy, soon to graduate in May 2011. Her primary work and research experience has been in criminal and juvenile justice reform, and she hopes to continue improving opportunities for California’s low-income and disenfranchised communities after she graduates.
ENDNOTES 1. D. Gupta, L.T. Vo, and K. Zraick, From Burma to New York (multimedia), retrieved December 2010,

2. Georgetown University Human Rights Institute and Georgetown Human Rights Action, Refugee Crisis in America: Iraqis and Their Resettlement Experience, Georgetown University Law Center (October 2009). Some aspects of the Aboud family profile were not detailed in the original source (e.g., information on the Abouds’ children), and are filled in here with fictional information reflecting typical experiences of Iraqi refugee families.

3. U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), FY 2009 Reception and Placement, Basic Terms of the Cooperative Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the (Name of Organization). Washington, D.C. (February 2009).

4. Georgetown, 2009.

5. INA § 101(a)(42).

6. S.H. Legomsky and C.M. Rodriguez, Immigration and Refugee Law and Policy, Foundation Press: New York, NY (2009).

7. United States Department of State (State Dept.), United States Department of Homeland Security, and United States Department of Health and Human Services, Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2011: Report to Congress (2010).

8. State Dept. et al., 2010.

9. U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), Refugee Resettlement in the United States, Department of State: September 2010; J. Gaber, S. Gaber, J. Vincent, and D. Boellstorff, “An Analysis of Refugee Resettlement Patterns in the Great Plains,” Great Plains Research 14:10 (Fall 2004): 165–83.

10. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Report to Congressional Committees, Iraq Refugees and Special Immigrant Visa Holders Face Challenges Resettling in the United States and Obtaining U.S. Government Employment. Washington, D.C. (March 2010).

11. On a per capita basis, the U.S. accepts fewer refugees than Australia, Canada, and Sweden (World Refugee Survey 2009). Also, despite growing worldwide need, the U.S. now accepts only a fraction of the absolute number it accepted in the early 1990s (75,000, as compared to 250,000) (Office of Refugee Resettlement [ORR], FY 2007 Annual Report to Congress. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Washington, D.C. [2010]).

12. State Dept. et al., 2010.

13. The Refugee Act of 1980 parallels the framework established by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO], Report to Congressional Committees, Iraqi Refugee Assistance: Improvements needed in measuring progress, assessing needs, tracking funds, and developing an international strategic plan, Washington, D.C. (April 2009); Georgetown, 2009.

14. Legomsky and Rodriguez, 2009.

15. State Dept. et al., 2010.

16. GAO, 2010; State Dept. et al., 2010.

17. Columbia University School of International Affairs (SIPA), Refugee Resettlement in the United States: An examination of challenges and proposed solutions, International Rescue Committee (May 2010).

18. Administering agencies may choose to concentrate use of funds in the first 30 days, or make gradual use over 90 days.

19. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), The Real Cost of Welcome: A financial analysis of local refugee resettlement, Baltimore, MD (2009). Around one-third of the current R&P allotment is used to finance overhead costs for the administering nonprofit agency.

20. GAO, 2010; Prior to this change, the R&P allocation amount had declined in real terms by more than 50 percent since 1975 (State Dept. et al., 2010).

21. The duration of refugee assistance is determined by the Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. See 45 C.F.R. § 400.211.

22. Interview: Program Manager, Refugee Resettlement Services, Anonymous Refugee Resettlement Agency, California, November 2010.

23. In some states, TANF funding for refugees is administered by the state, while in others it is administered directly by one of the ten contracted refugee resettlement agencies. N.G. Schiller, J.A. Boggis, M. Messenger, E.M. Douglas, Refugee Resettlement in New Hampshire: Pathways and Barriers to Building Community. University of New Hampshire: Center for the Humanities, 2009.

24. M. Farrel, B. Barden, and M. Mueller, The Evaluation of the Refugee Social Service (RSS) and Targeted Assistance Formula Grant (TAG) Programs: Synthesis of Finding from Three Sites. Falls Church, VA: The Lewin Group (2008). Columbia, 2010.

25. Georgetown, 2009.

26. Families that do not become citizens after seven years will no longer be eligible for Medicaid (Schiller et al., 2008). See Schiller et al. for various obstacles that refugees face in attaining citizenship.

27. ORR, 2008.

28. Georgetown, 2009; Researchers from the Migration Policy Institute (2003) theorize that an emphasis on employment is likely politically motivated by the notion that an emphasis on employment eases Americans’ negative perception of refugees feeding off of taxpayers—similar to sentiments regarding welfare for the general population (G. Noll and J. van Selm, “Rediscovering Resettlement,” Insight [3]. Migration Policy Institute [December 2003]). A National Geographic publication on U.S. refugee resettlement similarly conjectures that “resettlement officials are not necessarily worried about how refugees will adapt, but how the local communities will react” (S. Lovgren, “Refugees in the U.S.: One Family’s Story,” National Geographic News. National Geographic, June 20, 2003).

29. PRM 2009; Schiller 2009; Interview: Employment Specialist, Refugee Resettlement Services, Anonymous Refugee Resettlement Agency, California; December 2010.

30. For families with dependents, the continuation of TANF during employment is based on household income and state-specific thresholds.

31. Interview, Resettlement Agency Employment Specialist, 2010; Columbia, 2010; T. Dwyer, Refugee Integration in the United States: Challenges and Opportunities, Church World Service, March 2010; IRC, 2009; Georgetown, 2009; Schiller, 2009.

32. Georgetown, 2009.

33. International Organization on Migration (IOM), Information Sheet: Refugee Resettlement in the United States, May 2010.

34. On top of the challenges in covering basic expenses, refugees are responsible for paying back the cost of their flight to the United States; refugees are required to repay their “travel loan” in monthly installments, beginning six months after their arrival (State Dept., 2010).

35. Columbia, 2010; Georgetown, 2009; Schiller, 2008.

36. L. Turnbull, “Refugees Face Homeless All Over Again In U.S.,” Seattle Times (August 2010); R. Marosi, “Iraqi Refugees Find Hard Times,” Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2010; M. Brand, “Iraqi Refugees Settle In California,” National Public Radio (NPR), August 13, 2009; H.I. Win, “Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Seeking Asylum and a Better Life, California’s Iraqi Refugees Find Themselves in Limbo,” Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2009; Schiller, 2008; Georgetown, 2009.

37. Women’s Refugee Commission, Life in the Promised Land: Resettled Refugee Youth Struggle in the U.S.; Case study: Phoenix, Arizona (October 2009).

38. Interview: Dr. Wael Delaimy, San Diego Muslim community representative, December 2010.

39. Farrel, 2008; Columbia, 2010. The three “priority measure” elements tracked are: (1) length of time between arrival and employment; (2) wage rate; and (3) 90-day job retention (D.S. Nightingale, A Framework for Continuous Evaluation of Office of Refugee Resettlement Formula Programs Supporting Employability Services, Johns Hopkins University, (March 2008). ORR also tracks partial or full independence from public assistance and employment linked with health benefits.

40. ORR, 2008. While federal data are not publicly available, refugee resettlement agency representatives and recent reports on resettlement indicate that short-term employment rates have plummeted since 2008 (Interview, Resettlement Agency Program Director 2010; Church World Service, Impact of the Recession on Refugee Resettlement, May 2009).

41. Columbia, 2010.

42. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Refugee Resettlement: An International Handbook to Guide Reception and Integration (October 2002).

43. Farrel et al., 2008; UNHCR, 2002.

44. Interview, Resettlement Agency Employment Specialist 2010; Schiller et al., 2008.

45. Farrel et al., 2008.

46. Insight Center for Community and Economic Development, California Family Economic Self- Sufficiency Standard by County, retrieved December 2010; estimate varies depending on the age of children in the family. This figure applies to a family with two school-aged children.

47. UNHCR, 2002.

48. UNHCR, 2002.

49. Columbia, 2010; Georgetown, 2009.

50. ORR, 2008.

51. Women’s Refugee Commission, 2009.

52. Georgetown, 2009; H. Abdulkhaleq, Z. Al- Baaj, A. Boumediene, “Iraqi Torture Survivors: Panel Discussion with Experienced Service Providers,” National Capacity Building Webinar Series, The Center for Victims of Torture (May 2008).

53. UHCR, 2002.

54. Georgetown, 2010.

55. Abdulkhaleq et al., 2008.

56. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Trauma Survey in Syria Highlights Suffering of Iraqi Refugee (January 2008).

57. ORR, 2009.

58. A study of refugee resettlement in New Hampshire found that 91 percent of refugees relied upon Medicaid shortly after their arrival in the U.S.; eight months later, only 26 percent were still receiving the service (Schiller 2009). Those not receiving Medicaid failed to qualify because either no one in the family was working or the household income disqualified the family.

59. Abdulkhaleq et al., 2008.

60. Ibid; Georgetown, 2009. Refugees also encounter challenges in obtaining prompt access to necessary care as a result of flaws in USRAP planning and coordination (such as insufficient screening prior to resettlement, and inadequate transfer of information to resettlement agencies in the U.S.). See Columbia, 2009; Women’s Refugee Council, 2009.

61. Abdulkhaleq et al., 2008.

62. Abdulkhaleq et al., 2008.

63. Columbia, 2010; IRC, 2009; Georgetown, 2009.

64. For example, recertification as a doctor requires one to pay an initial registration fee of $700 and to complete three stages of verification within five years (Georgetown, 2009). The first stage is an exam that costs $825; the second, an exam that costs $1,200; and the third stage includes a residency period and another exam.

65. UNHCR, 2002; IRC, 2010.

66. USRAP does provide a special grant for a Career Development Program in a small number of select resettlement sites. However, agency representatives from one of those sites report that the grant is nearing its expiration (Interview, Resettlement Agency Program Director, 2010).

67. GAO, 2010.

68. Columbia, 2010.

69. Interview, Resettlement Agency Employment Specialist.

70. IRC, 2009.

71. PRM, 2009. Exceptions granted for one refugee per household who must care for an infant (under one year old) or another fully dependent person, and for refugees who are unable to work due to physical or mental disability.

72. Women’s Refugee Commission, 2009.

73. Columbia, 2010; Georgetown, 2009; IRC, 2009; Schiller, 2009.

74. Interview, Resettlement Agency Employment Specialist, 2010.

75. UNHCR, 2002.

76. State Department et al., 2010; Columbia, 2010.

77. This report examines only one slice of the multi-phase resettlement process. Thus not all areas requiring critical reforms are touched upon in these recommendations. See the 2010 report by Columbia University for a comprehensive account of necessary U.S. refugee resettlement reforms.