Op-Ed: Why we can’t wait any longer to welcome more refugees

by | Jan 20, 2021 | Immigration/Border, Policy

Today, even during the pandemic and Texas’ 8.1 percent unemployment rate, many businesses face staffing shortages, particularly in essential industries like manufacturing, warehousing, and home healthcare. 

Fortunately, there’s a solution. Refugees are well-represented in these fields, both nation-wide and here in Texas. It’s something I see daily as the director of the Dallas-Fort Worth office of Amplio Recruiting, a staffing agency that places the dependable refugee workforce with companies who need great employees. Refugees can bolster our economy during this critical time. That’s why president-elect Biden must immediately restore the country’s refugee resettlement policy and raise the cap to 125,000 people annually.

Refugees are an incredible resource for companies: they’re uniquely legal to work from the day they arrive, have been extensively vetted, and have retention rates up-to twice as high as other employees. Refugees are willing to work tough jobs — even at risk of infection — and they work hard. Nationwide, more than 346,000 refugees are considered essential workers, including 176,000 in healthcare, and 170,000 in grocery stores, processing plants, and restaurants. That’s why the reduction of refugee admissions to the lowest level on record — just 18,000 people this past fiscal year — has been economically harmful and is making our recovery harder today.

For example, refugees from Zimbabwe are integral to the workforce of Manchester Care Homes and Cambridge Caregivers in Dallas-Fort Worth, which have struggled to find enough employees. At Elliott Electric Supply in North Dallas, dedicated refugee employees drive forklifts and pull parts from its regional distribution center. And local refugee entrepreneurs like Uno Immanivong, owner of Red Stix Street Food, are maintaining payrolls, even while many restaurants have suffered a devastating blow.

Cutting off this labor supply has been bad for business. Last year, Texas settled only 2,460 refugees, down from a high of 8,200 in 2009. Federal funding for refugee organizations is directly tied to the number of refugees, and many institutions have closed or are barely hanging on. But this funding creates positive outcomes. With appropriate resources, refugees learn English, buy homes and naturalize at higher rates than other immigrants. They start businesses at higher rates than American citizens and after 25 years in the country, refugees have a median income of $14,000 more than the American average, according to New American Economy. Texas’ refugees alone contribute $1.6 billion in state and federal taxes annually, and one study found that if Texas opted out of the resettlement program for just one year, the state would lose $17.1 million in income and economic stimulus.

Most employers aren’t aware of this dependable refugee workforce in their own backyard. Some fear the unknown, and recent government hostility hasn’t helped. But if employers and customers took the time to get to know these incredible individuals, I’m confident they’d quickly be won over.

I myself didn’t truly understand the term “refugee” until I met one in North Africa in 2011. As a grad student on a church trip, we had travelled to a refugee camp near the Libyan border where thousands were fleeing Libya’s civil war. One evening, I sat in a tent with five men and asked about their jobs before the war. They answered: banker, x-ray technician, accountant, oil engineer and chef. Suddenly I realized how similar we were; my dad is an oil engineer, and if my family ever had to flee the U.S., we’d be just like them.

I’m inspired every day by the refugees I meet, and our company partners feel the same. They understand it makes fiscal and moral sense to continue welcoming these hard-working individuals. Refugees not only provide lasting benefits to communities across America, but they promote economic growth at a crucial time for our country. It’s time we open our doors to them once again.

Richard Brindley is managing director at Amplio Recruiting in Dallas-Fort Worth. 

Photo: Adam Jones/ Wikimedia Commons

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