Millions of people worldwide are driven to desert their homes daily to escape from war and persecution, often under terrifying and stressful circumstances. They are usually unable to return until their home country is in a state of security and stability, which can sometimes take several lifetimes. This leads families to live in refugee camps or attempt to resettle in a new country. The process is often lengthy and difficult. Because of this unfortunate reality, there are many refugees in America striving to create a new life while maintaining the elements of their native culture.

This worldwide crisis has caused extensive debate since many people see refugees as a threat to their job security and a drain on shrinking federal and state resources. The refugee population is often misrepresented and misunderstood, known for negative stereotypes that are driven by xenophobia and false propaganda. It is important that Americans attempt to see refugees as individual people with stories and personalities rather than as a faceless mass. The refugees who make it to America have survived hardships more horrific than most Americans will ever understand, and they deserve sympathy and opportunities for success.

Asylum Seekers vs Refugees in America

Many Americans are confused about the many terms being used for those who leave their countries to create new lives elsewhere. However, there are crucial differences separating the categories of people who come to America. The most important aspect of each category is the reason that the person has left their birthplace. Is it out of necessity to find security and survive? Or simply to find new economic opportunities? The answer to this question determines how individuals are legally treated and processed within the US, along with what resources they may be eligible for upon arrival.

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Refugee


A refugee is a person who has left his or her home because of war, brutality and oppression. A refugee cannot return home until conditions are safe, which sometimes will not happen in his or her lifetime. Refugees have no choice but to leave their homes. If they stay they risk death, imprisonment, and slavery.


Official entities such as governments or the United Nations decide whether people fulfill the requirements that make someone a refugee which then leads to decisions about placement and resources. In America, a refugee must first seek asylum elsewhere while filing for refugee status. The process for filing usually takes years. If they come to America first, they cannot legally be considered a refugee.

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Asylum Seeker


An asylum seeker is similar to a refugee in their reasons for leaving their home country. This is also an individual who has left their home to avoid war or violence. The distinction between these categories is that an asylum seeker has arrived in our country without going through the extensive process to receive refugee status. They may not have applied at all yet or could be waiting for the refugee application to be accepted.


Until they are recognized as asylees, asylum seekers have no legal protection. This can result in dangerous situations and deportation. Tens of thousands of families who cross the U.S. border to escape life-threatening circumstances are portrayed as illegal immigrants, when in reality they are legal asylum seekers looking for safety.

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Immigrants


The other categories of individuals attempting to resettle to America are classified as immigrants and migrants. Immigrants make the decision to leave their home in search of better opportunities. These individuals are able to return to their home countries without fear of death, persecution or violence.

 

They often choose not to if they are granted citizenship in a country with a better economy and quality of life than that of their birthplace. Others intend to only work in the new country for a set period of years before returning to their home country.

The Process for Claiming Refugee Status

After fleeing their home country, asylum seekers must first apply for asylum to receive the protection and resources they need to remain and thrive in America. Asylum seekers usually attend interviews at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They will go through a security screening, and if they pass this, they can qualify for resettlement as an asylee in the United States.


If they are undergoing removal proceedings through immigration courts, they must apply for defensive asylum as part of their case. Unfortunately, asylum seekers in these cases are not provided with a defender if they cannot afford one on their own. As soon as the application is approved, asylees may find work in the United States. After a year, the asylee may qualify for permanent residence status with a green card.


To attain refugee status, applicants must first be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The referral is usually done by a humanitarian organization such as the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). A USCIS officer will begin conducting a series of interviews with everyone in the family applying for refugee status. Additionally, there are intensive security screenings that applicants must undergo to attain security clearance to travel to the United States. The process often takes years. Once an individual is accepted as a legal refugee, he or she receives aid with resettlement and is given access to community services by the Refugee Admissions Program.


There are three categories of individuals attempting to claim refugee status in the United States. The first category, priority one, is for those who are resettling because they have absolutely no other option. They are the highest priority and the likeliest to be granted refugee status since they have the highest need. The priority two group consists of those who are of “special concern,” from Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Bhutan, and the former Soviet Union.


The last category is priority three, which includes the relatives of refugees who have already resettled to the United States. It is necessary for these individuals to present an Affidavit of Relationship, which the Department of Homeland Security processes. Those in this category may succeed in being granted refugee status, but chances are low if the designated amount of refugees that will be admitted to the United States has already been reached.

Refugees in America’s Economy

Contrary to the misconception that refugees are a drain on economic resources, the New American Economy report found that refugees in America earned over $77 billion in household income and paid nearly $21 billion in taxes in 2015. Along with being reliable taxpayers, refugees bolster our economy by providing a much-needed addition to the workforce. Research shows that refugees in America make valuable contributions to society once they have resettled successfully.

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Lay Down Roots


The other categories of individuals attempting to resettle to America are classified as immigrants and migrants. Immigrants make the decision to leave their home in search of better opportunities. These individuals are able to return to their home countries without fear of death, persecution or violence.

 

They often choose not to if they are granted citizenship in a country with a better economy and quality of life than that of their birthplace. Others intend to only work in the new country for a set period of years before returning to their home country.

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Increase the Labor Force


Another vital contribution made by refugees in American society is toward the workforce. Data collected by the American Community Survey shows that these members of society reinforce their communities with their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. This survey shows that the economic status and contribution of refugee families typically increases steadily after their first few years in the states.

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By State


Refugees make particularly meaningful contributions to the economies of several key states. In 18 U.S. states—including Minnesota, Michigan, and Georgia—the likely refugees in our sample hold more than $1 billion in spending power. In California alone, their spending power totals more than $17 billion, while in Texas, the equivalent figure is more than $4.6 billion.

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By State


As previously stated, refugee households show an upward trajectory in regards to economic level and ability to benefit society. They typically require assistance upon arrival to the States since these individuals have left their homes in a state of crisis and are unlikely to have funds to support themselves. However, after this initial assistance, the household income is shown to triple in the following decades. Once a refugee has lived in America for 25 years or more, his or her median household income is $67,000, which is $14,000 higher than that of the average U.S. household.

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Taxpayers


Refugees in America not only earn a high income and strengthen the housing market, but they are also devoted taxpayers. In the 2015 data collection, the 2.3 million refugees studied contributed $20.9 billion in taxes. This is one more example of the contribution that refugees make to American society.

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Entrepreneurial Spirit


Refugees in America are known for their capacity for entrepreneurship, an ability borne from the determination and resilience necessary to escape war and persecution. 13 percent of refugees in 2015 worked as entrepreneurs, 4 percent more than the general population. The businesses managed by these refugees generated $4.6 billion that year, not an insignificant contribution to the economy.

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Working Age


An emerging crisis in current American society is the percentage of elderly citizens compared to younger citizens. Sociologists anticipate a struggle to support the elderly as they will soon outnumber those of working age. Refugees are a solution to this growing problem, since around 77 percent of refugees are of working-age, about 30 percent more than that of the overall population of the United States. Refugees can decrease the imbalance between the young and old in America, thereby aiding the economy and increasing our country’s ability to support our elderly.

Conclusion

Based on the data regarding refugees’ household income, participation in the workforce and employment tendencies, refugees in America make a positive contribution to the economy. Although the process of becoming a refugee can be discouraging, those who have the good fortune and persistence to do so typically become valuable members of society. Those who resettle in America are usually grateful to be given new opportunities and willing to do anything to survive the challenge of adapting to a new country. This is reflected in their hard work and adaptability, two traits that help them take advantage of the American dream and benefit our society.

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