Refugees Quickly Moving Up the Ladder
Caveat: While this paper finds that refugees show significantly better labor market outcomes than economic migrants, it’s worth noting that this study covers an older cohort of refugee arrivals, when refugee cash and medical assistance were available for up to 36 months (up until 1991), and when the U.S. economy was booming. Things have changed quite a bit since then. For example, the Migration Policy Institute recently found that the median income of refugees who came to the U.S. from 1980-90 was $31,000 higher than the median income of those who arrived during 2006-11.  However, on the plus side, the same report finds that refugees are more likely to be employed than the U.S.-born population, which is quite noteworthy, in light of the Great Recession of 2009. Moreover, local studies have shown how refugees start businesses at a quicker pace than the U.S.born, and how refugees begin contributing to the U.S. society at a rather breath-taking pace. Only 8 percent of refugee households are still receiving public assistance within two years of coming to the U.S., a level of self-sufficiency that beats national norms.

I find that in 1980 refugee immigrants in this cohort earned 6 percent less and worked 14 percent fewer hours than economic immigrants. Both had about the same level of English skills. The two immigrant groups had made substantial gains by 1990; however, refugees had made greater gains. In fact, the labor market outcomes of refugee immigrants surpassed those of economic immigrants. In 1990, refugees from the 1975-1980 arrival cohort earned 20 percent more, worked 4 percent more hours, and improved their English skills by 11 percent relative to economic immigrants. The higher rates of human capital accumulation for refugee immigrants contribute to these findings.
Kalena Cortes, Are Refugees Different from Economic Immigrants? Some Empirical Evidence on the Heterogeneity of Immigrant Groups in the United States . In:  IZA Discussion Paper No. 1063, 2004.

Refugees with Training 5 Times More Likely to Succeed
This recent dissertation dissects data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement’s  Annual Survey Questionnaire of Refugees. The study finds that higher pre-arrival education and language proficiency levels predict better U.S. employment outcomes. Quite interestingly, the dissertation also finds that refugees who have participated in job training assistance programs are five times more likely to be employed than those who have not.
Higher levels of education on arrival to the US and higher levels of self-reported English language proficiency were found to predict higher likelihoods of being currently employed. Further, while participation in job training and assistance programs would be expected to increase the likelihood of employment among refugees, the actual odds ratio estimate produced by the model is noteworthy. It is estimated that those who have participated in such programs are almost five times more likely to be employed than those who have not. (…) Results indicated a strong influence of demographic factors—such as gender, marital status, and region of origin—on employment outcomes, as well as evidence of the importance of English language proficiency and job training services in securing employment.
Rami Arafah, Predicting Economic Incorporation Among Newly Resettled Refugees in the United States: A Micro-Level Statistical Analysis. University of California at Berkeley, 2016

Maria Vincenza Desiderio, Integrating Refugees Into Host Country Labor Markets. Challenges and Policy Options. Migration Policy Institute, 2016

Refugee Career Advancement Tips
The objective of this report was to strengthen and improve economic integration by understanding how refugees have moved into the fast lane, and how their skills, aspirations, and cultural ladders can be supported in the process of becoming full participants in their new communities.
Forced Migration Upward Mobility Project, Moving into the Fast Lane: Understanding Refugee Upward Mobility in the Context of Resettlement. 2016.

More Refugees Have Jobs than U.S.-Born
Refugees are more likely to be employed than the U.S.-born population. During the 2009-11 period, refugee men were more likely to work than U.S.-born men (67 percent versus 62 percent), while refugee women were as likely to work as U.S.-born women (54 percent).
Migration Policy Institute: The Integration Outcomes of U.S. Refugees, 2015.

Refugees Start Businesses and Contribute Quickly to Society
It’s often said that refugees are resilient, having escaped persecution, violence and wars. A new study underscores this notion with hard facts. Researchers of Chmura Economics & Analytics found that within two years of coming to the U.S., only 8 percent of refugee households are still receiving public assistance, a level of self-sufficiency that beats national norms. “Far from burdening a community, refugees tend to assimilate quickly, find work, buy houses and often start businesses,” summarizes The Cleveland Plain Dealer in an in-depth review.
Chmura Economics & Analytics: The Economic Impact of Refugees in the Cleveland Area, 2013.

Refugees Start Businesses, Helping Expand Local Economies
Thirty-one out of every 1,000 Bosnian refugees in the labor force are business owners, as are 26 out of every 1,000 Burmese, 22 out of every 1,000 Hmong, and 15 out of every 1,000 Somalis. By way of comparison, 31 out of every 1,000 U.S.-born people in the labor force are business owners, as are 36 out of every 1,000 foreign-born people in the labor force.
David Dyssegaard Kallick with Silva Mathema: Refugee Integration in the United States. June 2016.

How Does Local Unemployment Affect Refugees?
It is often assumed that high area unemployment has a negative impact on refugee job placements. That may not be a correct assumption, after all. Researchers have found that local unemployment rates were not correlated with refugee economic self-sufficiency rates. Refugees are often placed in hard-to-fill positions with high turnover and low wages. In such positions, reliability and work ethic are highly valued; two qualities consistently advertised as prominent among refugee employees. Consequently, VOLAGS should be cautious when basing their refugee allocation decisions on high area unemployment.
Trevor Fleck: Finding Employment: Factors Influencing Self-Sufficiency Rates in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Matching Grant Program. (2013)

Best Practice –German Apprenticeship Opportunities for Refugees
In Germany, thousands of refugees have been able to find transitional employment through federally-sponsored apprenticeship programs. Apprentices spend three days a week at a company, where they acquire industry-specific vocational skills. They spend the remaining days at a vocational school to acquire a grounding in their future job. Refugee apprentices receive a training allowance of roughly $700.00 per month, in addition to tuition-free vocational and language training, as well as housing and cash assistance.

U.S. Rapid Employment Model Trumps Approach
In most countries, though, unemployment rates are higher among the foreign- than the native-born, whether men or women. There are some noteworthy exceptions, such as the settlement countries, the United States, Chile, and a few Central European countries […], where rates are low in international comparisons.
OECD: Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015 Settling In, p. 88 (2015)

Refugees Move Up the Occupational Ladder
Among Somalis who are recent arrivals, for example, 23 percent work in white-collar jobs, while far more—43 percent—do so after having been in the United States for 10 years or more.
David Dyssegaard Kallick with Silva Mathema: Refugee Integration in the United States, 2016.

Once Established in the United States, Refugees Often See Substantial Wage Gains
Burmese refugees see the biggest gains. Recently arrived Burmese men have a median wage of $23,000 per year, while the median for those who have been in the United States for more than 10 years is $54,000. The median wage for Burmese women who have been in the United States for more than 10 years is $50,000, up from $21,000 for recent arrivals.
David Dyssegaard Kallick with Silva Mathema: Refugee Integration in the United States. June 2016.

Refugee Wages are in the Middle of the Range of Wages for U.S.-born Workers.
Refugees enter a U.S. economy that is characterized by well-documented wage gaps based on race and gender. Refugee earnings are generally higher than those of the lowest-earning U.S.-born race and gender group, black women, but lower than those of the highest-earning U.S.-born group, white men. No refugee group—men or women—has a median annual wage at the level of U.S.-born white men, either among high school graduates or among college graduates. For refugees who are high school graduates, the highest earnings rate is 87 percent of the level of U.S.-born white men, even after restricting the sample to refugees who speak English at least “well.” For refugee college graduates, the highest rate is 74 percent of the earnings of comparably educated U.S.-born white men. On the other hand, among both high school and college graduates, the majority of the refugee groups considered earn more than black women, who are in both cases the lowest-earning U.S.-born group. Also interesting is that the gender wage gap is often considerably smaller within these refugee groups than for U.S.-born workers. Indeed, the gender gap is sometimes reversed. Somali and Burmese women with college degrees earn more than their male counterparts, and Hmong women earn the same as Hmong men, though the earnings level is low for both. In contrast, U.S.-born women earn less than U.S.-born men in general and also when disaggregated by race and educational attainment.
David Dyssegaard Kallick with Silva Mathema: Refugee Integration in the United States. June 2016.

Income Drops for Recent Refugee Arrivals
Despite relatively high educational attainment and employment rates, refugees have lower incomes than other immigrants. Refugees’ median household income in 2009-11 was $42,000, about $3,000 below other immigrants’ and $8,000 less than the median for the U.S. born. Nevertheless, refugees’ incomes notably rise with length of U.S. residence. The median income of refugees who arrive in 1980-90 was $31,000 higher than the median income of those who arrived in 2006-11. (…) concerning is that recent refugees’ incomes have dropped relative to those of the U.S. born. This gap suggests that the income gains observed among earlier arrivals may not be replicated for those who arrived more recently. Refugee who arrived in the United States between 1995 and 2000 had median household incomes equivalent to 62 percent of U.S.-born household incomes, as measured in the 2000 Census; but refugees who had been in the United States for five years or less in 2009-11 had median incomes equal to 45 percent of the U.S. born.
Migration Policy Institute: The Integration Outcomes of U.S. Refugees, 2015.

U.S. General Accounting Office Dissect Refugee Employment Programs
In 2008, the economic downturn and an increase in refugee arrivals posed challenges to ORR’s efforts to assist refugees and estimate program costs, resulting in fluctuating unobligated balances. Congress required GAO to examine (1) differences in ORR’s refugee assistance programs and factors program providers consider when placing refugees in a particular program; (2) refugee employment outcomes and the effectiveness of different approaches to providing assistance; and (3) how ORR estimates program costs and how its estimates have affected the agency’s unobligated balances. GAO met with federal and state officials, voluntary agency staff, and refugees; reviewed selected case files; analyzed ORR performance data for fiscal years 2007 through 2009; and reviewed and analyzed relevant federal laws, regulations, and budget documents.
Government Accountability Office, Refugee assistance: Little is known about the effectiveness of different approaches for improving refugees’ employment outcomes2011

U.S. Rapid Employment Model Trumps Approach
Excerpt from a qualitative survey of Somali refugees who have been resettled to London (UK) vs. Minneapolis (U.S.): “In London, 90% of the respondents were unemployed compared with 26% in Minneapolis.”
Nasir Warfa, Sarah Curtis: Migration Experiences, Employment Status and Psychological Distress among Somali Immigrants: A Mixed-method International Study, 2014.

Study Finds Early Employment Focus Invites Cherry-Picking
In their current state, ORR’s employment contracts motivate employment caseworkers to get their clients to work as quickly as possible. Part of the rationale for this outcome focus is that getting refugees to work will lessen their dependence on public cash assistance and increase their chances of becoming “economically self-sufficient”. However, RROs are constrained in their ability to help their clients achieve these desired policy goals. RROs have limited resources and limited time during which they can target these resources to clients. Further, RROs do not control which clients they receive, nor how many. These circumstances put employment caseworkers in the position of doing the best they can for the clients they feel they can help, while sorting out the clients who they cannot successfully serve.
Jessica H. Darrow, Getting Refugees to Work: A Street-level Perspective of Refugee Resettlement Policy. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 2015

Length of Service Period Matters
The U.S. resettlement system has been chronically underfunded, at least since 1991. When the U.S. refugee program was first established in 1980, refugee cash and medical assistance were available for up to 36 months. Since 1991, these forms of assistance have been limited to eight months. Some observers have pointed to the availability of 36 months of cash assistance as a contributing factor to the long-term economic success of Vietnamese refugees, who arrived in large numbers in the 1980s. Since about 2010 the number of severely injured refugees and PTSD has significantly increased. Yet, the current political emphasis on tightening social program spending runs counter to the need of offering adequate social and medical support for refugees with mental illnesses and war injuries.
Congressional Research Service: U.S. Refugee Resettlement Assistance, 2011

How are Refugees Doing after 20 Years in the U.S.?
Many studies, including MRS data, have shown that refugees quickly become self-sufficient in the US, which is a central goal of the American resettlement process. But just how are refugees doing 10, 15, even 20 years after being resettled in this new country? During a November 15, 2016 presentation at the USCCB, Dr. Bill Evans of Notre Dame University’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), shed more light on refugees’ long-term economic outcomes. Using refugee admission statistics, LEO researchers studied economic outcomes of refugees who were in the US between 0 and 20 years. Using a software that estimates the amount of taxes a person paid based on family structure, income, and deductions, LEO calculated the average taxes refugees paid. Combining this with costs to the government in the form of healthcare, food stamps, public assistance, etc., Dr. Evans predicted what the net was cost to the government over their first 20 years in the US. Another aspect the Notre Dame University team studied was the effect age of entrance to the US has on educational attainment of refugees entering as children. This project’s lead researcher is LEO Co-Founder and Professor of Economics, Dr. Bill Evans.

Length of Service Period Matters
A recent study underscores this point. Observing the integration process of 434 refugee families in Salt Lake City, researchers found that the availability of extended case management made a big difference. They observed substantial improvements in well-being and reductions in needs in relation to health, employment, finances, housing, education, and family/community circumstances were observed over the course of two years.
Stacey A. Shaw and Patrick Poulin: Findings from an Extended Case Management U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program2014