A recent survey of refugees living in Colorado provides new evidence of their integration and contributions to American society and the economy. The report finds that after four years of life in the United States, 75 percent of refugees were “highly integrated,” and nine in ten worked for more than thirty hours per week.
In light of the recent scrutiny of the refugee programs, recognizing the contributions of refugees and their positive integration outcomes is critical to determining admissions numbers moving forward.
The Colorado survey studied nearly all Burmese, Bhutanese, Somali, and Iraqi refugees that arrived between January 2011 and March 2012. Colorado’s State Refugee Coordinator, Kit Taintor, said, “these refugees are integrating, they are finding jobs with higher wages, they are able to do things like move from a rented apartment into a home.”
Additionally, the survey detailed that just five percent of refugees remain in the “low-integration” range after four years in the United States.
Researchers posited this group primarily consists of stay-at-home mothers and refugees over 55 years old, because stay-at-home mothers lack the social interactions found in school or employment and older individuals have a harder time learning a new language and finding permanent work. Both lead to increased isolation, which hinders integration.
Despite these groups, three-fourths of refugees surveyed were rated highly integrated within four years. Six in ten refugees were fluent in English, and nine in ten were working more than 30 hours per week.
Most refugees, seven in ten, reported that they were employed at a level commensurate with their education— implying they found the right fit for occupation quickly.
In regards to barriers to employment, refugees claiming they “couldn’t find job” went from 55 percent in year one to just 5 percent in the fourth year.
Of those surveyed, two-thirds spend time with people of a culture, ethnic group, language, or religion different from their own. Seven in ten can readily access information about other cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and religions. And eight in ten celebrate American holidays.
Seventy-five percent attend celebrations or events for other cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and religions.
Survey participant Leela Tinsina left Bhutan when he was 14, and lived for two decades in a refugee camp. Having lived in Colorado for five years, Leela calls America his home, where he works for a Colorado non-profit organization, and where he and his wife, who works in the healthcare industry, just bought a home and are raising two boys.
Tinsina said, “I feel very proud and honored to be in this country.” He considers his move to America his second life and said, “I want to say thank you to the American people, and the American government.” The successes for individuals like Leesa are impressive, considering that they spent years of their lives fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.
Of course, progress is still needed. The survey found that one-fourth of refugees do not have health insurance. Twenty percent still cannot speak English, and four in ten still lack confidence in their language skills.
The Colorado study showcases integration progress from refugees as they spend more time in the United States. Improved policies can further facilitate integration, especially amongst the groups that struggled to learn English.
Further studies like this one, which survey and share what works best for successful refugee integration and where we need further investment, are necessary to ensure our refugee resettlement program continues to transform refugees into fully functioning American citizens.
While transitioning to a new country is exceptionally difficult, refugees make great strides annually and by the fourth year make it difficult to ascertain the difference between a refugee from Iraq or a native born American citizen. After a full decade, we can expect those gaps to be even slimmer.
The results are clear: Colorado refugees are integrating soundly into American society.
Op-ed by Matthew La Corte; originally in the Huffington Post