By Karen Andolina Scott
June 20 is World Refugee Day, when we celebrate the many contributions of refugees to the societies where they were given sanctuary. Google, video games, Sriracha hot sauce, the theory of relativity – all contributions made in whole or in part by refugees. While the future of the U.S. refugee resettlement program remains in flux and a hot topic of debate, it’s important to know how refugees have contributed to our country and to our city.
Take the economy, as one example. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services completed an internal study that proved that refugees are not a net cost to the American taxpayer. In fact, the study found that refugees contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government between 2005 and 2014, resulting in a net fiscal gain of $63 billion to government revenue over that 10-year period.
While it’s true that refugees do require temporary assistance while getting acclimated to their new lives, the vast majority want and do find work quickly or further their education to join the professional class – their families’ livelihoods, like ours, depend on it. The nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees end up paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits after just eight years of their arrival in the U.S. And despite often facing significant linguistic and educational gaps, refugees experience a rapid increase in employment rates and income over time.
Finally, other studies have shown that the national entrepreneurship rate of refugees surpasses that of the U.S.-born population, refugee businesses generated $4.6 billion in 2015, and refugee workers demonstrate markedly high rates of retention in their places of employment.
Buffalo is known as the City of Good Neighbors in large part due to our long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees from around the world. It makes good economic sense to continue advocating for new arrivals to our community.
More than 10,000 refugees have settled in Buffalo and Erie County in the last 14 years, slowing the population drain and revitalizing neighborhoods from the West Side to Riverside and Black Rock, causing property values for all homeowners to rise. New stores, restaurants, community improvement organizations, and places of worship are now expanding beyond these neighborhoods into the suburbs. In fact, those neighborhoods housing the largest numbers of refugees showed an increase of nearly 1,100 jobs between 2009 and 2015, while the number of businesses in those areas increased 6.25 percent, which were higher numbers than for the whole of Erie County during the same period.
Before forming an opinion on whether or not settling refugees in our country and in our city is positive or negative, we need to separate the facts from the false claims and empty promises made by some politicians and media in order to maintain power, which could ultimately harm not just refugees, but our whole community.
Karen Andolina Scott, an attorney, is executive director of Journey’s End Refugee Services Inc. in Buffalo.