The cost of refugee resettlement in the US is simply too high

The cost of refugee resettlement in the US is simply too high
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With an estimated 22.5 million refugees worldwide, nations of the world clearly need to do more to help those fleeing persecution, war or natural disasters. But with limited resources and only a handful of nations willing to accept large numbers of refugees for permanent resettlement, the United States needs to channel our resources effectively to do the most good and help the most people.

The United States currently spends about $1.8 billion annually — or $8.8 billion over five years — to resettle refugees and asylees inside the country, according to a new study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). That’s nearly $15,900 a year per refugee, or $80,000 over a five-year span.

The study examines initial resettlement costs, as well as fluctuations in welfare and government service usage during a refugee’s first five years in the country, based on data provided by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Refugees are entitled to the whole host of social service programs upon arrival in the United States, and can remain on many of them for life.


The findings also reveal that 92.5 percent of refugees sign up for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) soon after arriving, and 70 percent stay on that program after five years. This may be a result of the fact that refugees are slow to assimilate into the U.S. and that their wages remain nearly stagnant, with the average refugee earning approximately $10.00 an hour during their first year in the country.


Furthermore, thousands of refugees are resettled in rural areas or smaller cities that are hardly prepared to provide their families with the resources needed to integrate successfully into American society. Nearly 90 percent of refugees are not fluent in English when they enter the country, making the education of their children even more expensive for the communities where they resettle. These communities often have an already limited pool of resources. In more urban areas, the main concern is that many schools are already overcrowded.

This is not to say that the United States should scrap our refugee program. We have a rich and long history of helping those people who are displaced from their homes due to political, social and religious instability. In fact, our refugee program is the largest in the world, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

What the study clearly reveals, however, is that choosing to relocate a relative handful of refugees into the U.S. is by far the most costly way to help the smallest number of refugees. The United States typically accepts around 100,000 combined refugees and asylees each year, not counting unaccompanied alien minors and certain Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries, who are managed under a different set of criteria.

In 2015, the U.N. Refugee Agency said they needed $1,057 to help Syrian refugees resettle in neighboring countries. Therefore, the U.S. could temporarily settle 15 refugees in neighboring countries for what is spent on a single refugee within our own borders over the course of a year. Based on this formula, The United States could conceivably help closer to 1.5 million refugees annually instead of 100,000 if we would adjust our resettlement priorities and focus on the larger picture.

In addition to fiscal concerns, there is a considerable national security threat related to resettling refugees from countries prone to terrorism. Currently, the United States is ill-equipped to properly vet refugees from most countries with a crippled government infrastructure, or where officials are uncooperative. This is what led President TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE to issue an executive order restricting travel from seven countries in January 2017. Furthermore, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom MORE testified last year that 15 percent of all the FBI’s Terrorism investigations were of people who entered the United States as refugees.

Assisting refugees is a noble cause that most Americans support. However, the system in which we provide that support fails to help the greatest number of people, is highly expensive and presents considerable risk from a national security standpoint. It is time for the United States to re-examine our policies and priorities regarding refugees, and consider alternative measures that would help a greater number of refugees in a more cost-effective way.

Spencer Raley is a research associate at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).