Refugees in Lansing area made positive impact on economy

While there are some misconceptions surrounding the impact of refugees on Greater Lansing’s economy, the results have been positive; a recent study conducted by Global Detroit and the University of Michigan School of Public Policy found that over the past decade, refugee resettlement has contributed $230-295 million to southeastern Michigan’s economy. The report also noted refugees added between 1,798 and 2,311 jobs to the region.

The study outlines how refugee resettlement agencies, household spending and owning businesses have impacted Michigan’s economy. Money contributed to resettlement agencies results in job creation and spending. Additionally, refugees support the economy by spending their money with local businesses. Refugees also create their own businesses, thereby creating jobs and purchasing goods and services to meet the demands.

While the study measured the impact of refugees in southeastern Michigan, the results are applicable to Lansing, which has become a popular area for refugee resettlement.

A refugee is a person who is forced to leave their country and cannot return home. There are many reasons why refugees become displaced: religion, race, political persecution, natural disaster and war. Those who are eligible for resettlement must go through a strict vetting process, which takes nearly two years.

Tracy Richey, the director of operations staffing services for EG Workforce Solutions, an employment agency in East Lansing, has noticed firsthand the economic benefits of hiring refugees. “The refugee groups we work with add value to our economy by not just increasing the demand for services, but by stimulating production with the clients we serve … this population is helping us increase production output and keep the local
economy strong.”

EG Workforce Solutions helps refugees begin careers in the Lansing area. Refugees complete a general job application submitted to different employers in the capital area. From there, the agency helps refugees train for their interviews and teaches them new skills for higher-level positions.

The agency credits success to St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC): a charitable nonprofit organization in Lansing that assists with refugee resettlement. “We wouldn’t be successful here if it wasn’t for St. Vincent,” said Richey. “Our relationship with them has really grown tremendously over the years and is a great partner[ship] within the community.”

STVCC helps adults and families become self-sufficient with aid from the federal government and community donations. Unlike Detroit, which mostly resettles refugees from the Middle East, the refugees in Lansing are manifold. Out of 441 refugees that arrived in Lansing within the 2017 fiscal year, 240 were from Africa, 116 were from Asia and 85 were from the Middle East.

“The process starts when we pick them up from the airport,” said Refugee Services Director Judi Harris at the STVCC. “We set up housing arrangement for refugees, which includes donated household items and food from the community.”

Refugees then go through orientation. The orientation process covers essential details, so refugees can become acclimated to cultural life in the U.S. These refugees learn how to do laundry, how to commute within the local area and take English courses through the program.

Refugees concurrently take an employment orientation, which teaches refugees the cultural aspects of working in the U.S. as well as how to apply for jobs. Denise Sullivan, the refugee services’ job coordinator, marks the goal of the organization as helping refugees become independent.

“We want refugees to grow. We don’t want them to be dependent forever. It is our goal to teach them the skillsets needed to apply for jobs and have successful careers,” Sullivan said.

Refugees typically start their careers in entry-level positions. While in their first job, refugees can take more English classes and apply for higher-level positions. Some go on to start their own businesses.

Although refugees are eager to start their lives in the U.S., there are many misconceptions about resettlement among Americans. A common one is that refugees are on financial assistance for the duration of their time in Lansing, which is not the case.

“The goal of our refugee services — and a reason why we exist — is to provide refugees the resources needed to become self-sufficient and to not rely on anyone else besides themselves for financial income,”
said Sullivan.

John Karasinski, the associate director of community relations and marketing at STVCC, believes another misunderstanding about refugees is that they take positions from locals.

“A lot of the jobs refugees are fulfilling for local businesses are jobs that other residents are not doing, or there’s not enough population within the area to fulfill those jobs. So, for those businesses to maintain their ongoing capacity, they need that incoming population base.”

Harris agrees. “Refugees just want stability, peace and to be able to take care of their family. They’re not playing games. They are just here to work hard and do what they need to make a life for themselves.”

The issue of refugee resettlement has become a contentious and lengthy debate on the national level. On Sept. 26 of last year, the Trump administration announced a travel ban will only allow 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year. This cap is low, considering over 3 million refugees have been accepted into the U.S. since 1975.

“The typical or average number of refugees we resettle is around 600 per year. Last year, it was about 908. In this past fiscal year, it was at 474,” said Karasinski. “And now that we move into the next fiscal year, the projection looks to be even lower than that.”

Despite the challenges facing refugees, Harris finds the community beyond welcoming.

“People here are supportive because they know a refugee. They work with them, they live next door to them and they go to school with them. So, they know they’re peaceful and like them, and we learn a lot from them, too,” said Harris. “We’ve had our employers tell us they’re changing their culture in a good way.”

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