Honors Thesis Spotlight: Integration of Refugees in the Labor Market: Effects of 2017 Immigration Policy

In 2015, millions of families sought refuge from their home countries that contained violence. These families fled to developed nations like the United States, Canada, and other European countries. This surge of migration became known as the “Migrant Crisis” and caused refugee migration and immigration policies to expand with the flux of migration. Some of these policies included preventing or deferring migrants from entering the border of the country where they sought safety. One such policy in the US was the “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” from the Trump administration in 2017, which influenced the number and demographic of migrants seeking safety in the United States. Molly McQueeney used the difference-in-difference analysis to assess the effects of immigration policy on refugees’ wages and employment results. By utilizing “data from the 2016 and 2018 5-Year American Community Survey and the USCIS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, this study found that overall, refugees experience lower wages, and lower educational premiums than their native counterparts” (1). Despite these results, the data did show that male refugee wages increased from 2016 to 2018 than natives’ wages; and that both female and male refugees had higher growth in employment than natives within this period. McQueeney stated that further research should use the same model, but compared to two different refugee communities than natives.

A refugee is someone who is forced to flee their home country because of persecution or violence, and refugees differ from standard immigration policy since they had little choice in where they are migrating to. The United States is known for accepting refugees and having a high rate of resettlement, but this poses a challenge for the resettlement communities. Since the “Migrant Crisis”, governments were forced to analyze resettlement strategies as waves of refugees were being admitted into their countries. The refugee resettlement policy changed drastically in 2017 in the US because of policies like “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which restricted the number of refugees admitted. This policy limited the number of refugees from 110,000 to 50,000, placed a ban on Syrian refugees, and restricted refugees from other Muslim countries. One of the defining issues with immigration is that resettled migrants have a challenge with integration into the workforce. Many refugees have work skills that are transferable in the US and are competitive in the workforce, but many “many experience language barriers, cultural barriers, and discrimination that can impact their ability to receive comparable employment and income relative to native workers” (6). In addition, the US requires that a refugee must be able to be financially independent three months after resettlement, which emphasizes the importance of employment and have a successful migration. McQueeney aims to analyze if the recent immigration policies have affected “labor market outcomes” (6) for immigrants by measuring the employment and wage rates in the 2016-2018 period.

McQueeney found that “the executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” impacted refugee communities throughout the U.S. by decreasing the admissions ceiling and altering the demographics of refugee communities across the country” (43). Refugees’ wages and employment were significantly changed by this policy. From the difference-in-difference model, male refugees experienced an 11.5 percent wage increase compared to their native counterparts, and both male and female refugees experience a 3.5 percent increase in employment. McQueeney infers that this is due to a decrease in competition from a limitation of the number of refugees admitted in 2017.

Molly McQueeney is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Molly’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Lindsey Anderson.

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