Opinion

Shutting the Door on Thousands More Refugees Harms Communities and Businesses

Restricting the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to a record low 30,000 for the next fiscal year, disregards the significant and lasting positive impact refugees have on our communities and our economies. In cities and towns across America, businesses are clamoring to hire refugees and crowds of residents are gathering to welcome them. It’s important to remember that these admission ceilings may not even be reached. With this fiscal year over, fewer than 21,000 refugees were admitted to the United States — not even half of the current level permitted to find safe haven and rebuild their lives here.

We can aim a lot higher than new lows. Refugees build our economy, they don’t harm it.

What is clear is that businesses, large and small, are looking to hire refugees for hard-to-fill positions. Starbucks has committed to hiring 10,000 refugees by 2020, WeWork has committed to hiring 1,500 refugees over the next five years, and other businesses that we partner with, including LinkedIn and Tetra Tech DPK, are actively searching, training and mentoring refugees who support their businesses, lead innovation and strengthen their communities.

Refugees are engines of economic revitalization and harsher policies that diminish their opportunities are what hinders it.

Zinah graduated from the University of Baghdad with a bachelor’s degree in statistics in 2005. After landing her dream job at Iraq’s biggest telecom company, the war caused her to flee the country with her family. They traveled first to Jordan, where they had to live in a sprawling slum. Yearning for a stable, permanent place to call home, they applied for resettlement in the United States. After emigrating from Jordan to Oman, Zinah’s family was accepted for resettlement in Dallas —  nearly nine years later  — in November 2016. While Zinah, her parents and two sisters were approved to travel, her brother stayed on the waiting list and they had to leave him behind.

After making the saddest sacrifice of her life, Zinah arrived in Dallas determined to continue working in her field. “I wanted to have a secure job, fulfill my career path and add value to my life. It feels empowering to be a professional woman in the workforce. It gives you the chance to be independent, help your family, and make your vision come true,” Zinah told us. We knew from our partnership with Reddy Ice that they needed support and that Zinah would be a great fit as an HR analyst at the company.

Refugees, like Zinah, have contributed $63 billion worth of positive financial gain to the U.S. economy. Turnover rates for refugee hires in the U.S. are lower than for other hires and refugees improve the talent acquisition and management practices at their workplaces.

The sad reality is that, unlike Zinah, less than 1 percent of the world’s refugees are resettled to a third country. The vast majority, 86 percent, stay in the developing countries to which they fled, with limited to no access to residency, education, employment or health care. Their dreams go unrealized and their talents go wasted. Once they have made the arduous journey here, we cannot close the door on them when we have room inside. There are thousands of refugees hoping they get the call that they will be resettled and there are business and communities here that are devastated at the thought that there will be tens of thousands fewer that do.

As we redouble our efforts to serve newcomers — refugees, immigrants, and asylees — in building lives and careers in the United States, we ask that Congress find ways to support the call of corporations across the country to employ refugees in the professional positions that address our talent gap. We have seen first-hand that refugees are an asset to our communities and our economy and we should start treating them as such.

Jina Krause-Vilmar is the President and CEO of Upwardly Global.

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