The Uphill Battle
Unlike immigrants, refugees were driven out of their homes, forced to resettle in strange lands due to life-threatening circumstances. Upon arrival in America, refugees must not only adapt to a new life but also battle psychological, physical, and financial hardships.
Upon arrival, refugees are bombarded with overwhelming expenses with very limited supporting income. The Refugee Assistance Program offers refugees with limited funding that cuts off within five to eight months of arrival. This assistance is insufficient to even cover basic necessities (food, utilities, rent, etc) let alone cover other expenses or loans. It does not prolong enough for refugees to seek employment, rebuild, and become self-sufficient.
Learning a new language is never easy; now pile on the pressure of learning it in time for employment before financial assistance runs out (5-8 months). This is the case for majority of incoming refugees, who do not speak English. The struggle to simultaneously learn a new language and find a self-sufficient job is both stressful and crippling.
Arriving refugees offer a vast range of skills and experience. While some are highly skilled and certified (by their country of origin) for professional employment, others lack the experience or education that translate to the American labor market. However, both are hit with a drastic short window of time to acquire employment. The highly-skilled accept any dead-end blue-collar job forcing them to waste their potential, while the remainder struggles to find any job at all.
Any professional degrees or certifications obtained by refugees in their country of origin are usually not recognized in America, which causes the highly skilled (doctors, nurses, engineers, etc.) to lose everything they had achieved. The process of recertification is long and expensive: time and money that refugees simply cannot afford. And so, they turn to dead-end blue collar jobs.
As for the children in the family, the transition is just as exhausting. Many of the young refugees have either experienced education in broken-down schools or no schooling at all. Arriving in America’s public school system is often a cultural shock and a blow to their self-confidence. While school districts around the US have allocated funds to give special attention refugee students, it is still not enough. With language barriers and insufficient teaching attention, refugee students perform poorly academically. To add on, students are also pressured to financially support themselves and the family with part-time employment during their school life. If young refugees are able to complete high school, many are unable to continue to higher education and must join the family struggle to financial self-sufficiency. The cycle of poverty then continues.
The average American takes for granted the simplicity of day-to-day tasks like banking, grocery shopping, transportation, etc. For the refugee, it’s a long journey to integration paved with many obstacles.
Despite orientation sessions provided by resettlement agencies, many refugees are not equipped with simple life skills needed in the American society. As a result, refugees often gravitate towards communities that share their language and culture, removing any motivation to integrate into the larger society.
Refugees are assigned a resettlement agency case manager tasked with assisting them through their integration journey. However, with limited funding and resources, these case managers are overburdened with large caseloads and are unable to provide sufficient individual attention. Throughout a refugee’s arduous struggle, establishing a bond and sincere relationship goes a long way. Simple acts like visiting the family, contacting them often, or teaching them a thing or two about American life makes the world of a difference to the lives of a struggling family.