Many Americans are concerned about how quickly, and how well, Syrian refugees integrate into American society. A new report published last month by the Center for American Progress and the Fiscal Policy Institute should allay those fears, as it is the latest piece of evidence confirming that immigrants from Syria assimilate well into the United States. Understanding how these Syrians have done in the United States is important, not only because it indicates how new Syrian refugees will integrate, but also because previous Syrian immigrants are some of the receiving communities of refugees, which will help ease their transition.
The new study looks at 90,000 Syrian immigrants in the 2014 American Community Survey. The group mostly comprises immigrants who came to the United States from Syria before the Syrian Civil War, and finds that Syrian immigrants to the United States have done very well in providing for themselves, and contributing the U.S. economy. In fact, at $52,000, their median income is not only higher than the median for all immigrants ($36,000), but it is also higher than the median income for natives ($45,000).
Because any negative effects on native wages of immigrants—if they exist at all—only exist for the lowest levels of income and skills, the findings of the report also suggest that Syrian immigrants are, if anything, increasing native wages.
As they stay in the U.S. longer, their incomes grow even higher. The median for immigrants who have been here longer than ten years was $65,000. Labor force participation also grows over time. So too do homeownership rates, which are about the same among Syrians who have been in the United States for longer than ten years as they are among Americans.
Syrian immigrants are not just contributing to the economy through work in existing places of employment; they are also starting new businesses at an impressive rate, providing goods, services, and jobs to Americans. Three percent of natives own businesses, compared to 11% of Syrian immigrants.
Part of the reason Syrian immigrants do so well is their overall high-rate of education. Over a quarter of Syrians have advanced degrees, which is more than twice the rate of natives. As the authors of the report point out: “[w]hile a comparable share of new refugees may or may not reach these same levels of educational attainment, it can only be helpful to them that other Syrians have done well and can serve as role models or help new arrivals navigate the American system.”
The report also highlights factors indicating that Syrian immigrants have also integrated well culturally. The report finds that Syrian immigrants speak and learn English better than other immigrants.
Additionally, it finds that they become citizens—one of the best indicators of integration—at much higher rates than other immigrants. In fact, more than 90% of Syrian immigrants become citizens, which is over 20 percentage points higher than the rest of the immigrant population.
These results should not be too surprising. They are consistent with the broad message of previous work on assimilation: it is not an instantaneous process, but it is working well in America.
There is good reason to believe the success of Syrian immigrants is applicable to refugees. Multiple studies suggest that America has been historically good at integrating refugees. Save for public pushback against, Syrian refugees should integrate well too. “Having a receiving community of the same background as an incoming refugee group is not necessary for successful integration,” the authors of the new study wrote. “But there is little doubt that having a group from the same country already successfully living and working in the United States can help a refugee group find its way.”
The case for resettling more refugees is already strong. When we see how well Syrians integrate into American society, and how much all parties involved benefit as a result, the case is stronger still.