Financial Support and Resources for Refugees Arriving in the US
About 80 million people must leave their homes each year to find refuge in a safer location. War, civil unrest, extreme poverty and the threat of violence are reasons families flee their home country.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates 26 million are refugees, while others are asylum seekers or internally displaced people. The United States accepts thousands each year. In total, the U.S. has welcomed three million refugees since 1975, which may increase as the Biden Administration proposes to raise the number of refugee admissions this year.
It may take an average of two years, with multiple background security checks, interviews and health screenings, for refugees to settle in the U.S. Once in the States, there are programs and resources available to help you and your family find a new home, stay safe and become self-reliant.
Refugee Resettlement in the US
The United States Department of Health and Human Services oversees the country’s refugee resettlement program. It tracks all incoming refugees since 1975, revealing where they came from and where they are living in the U.S.
The U.S. resettled more than 200,000 refugees in 1980 and less than 15,000 in 2020.
Texas hosts the most refugees, with 1,692 resettling in the state in 2018.
Most refugees resettling in the U.S. come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Source: National Immigration Forum
What Is a Refugee?
There are many reasons someone might decide to try to find a new life in another country. The decision to leave is often difficult. While millions around the world make this decision each year, not all are refugees.
What Is the Difference Between Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants?
The terms, ‘refugee,’ ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘migrant’ are often misused. The three are legally different, according to Amnesty International.
- Refugee: a person who flees their country because they are at risk of harm and their own government cannot or will not protect them. Refugees have a right to international protection.
- Asylum Seeker: a person who leaves their country for fear of persecution or harm. However, their request is not yet legally recognized with refugee status. Seeking asylum is considered a human right, according to the Geneva Convention.
- Migrant: a person who is living outside their country of origin without asylum or refugee status. Reasons a migrant may leave their home country can be due to fear of harm not covered by refugee protection, join other family members already in the country or in search of work and education opportunities.
What Does It Mean to Be a Refugee?
When you are determined to be a refugee, the international community determines your health and safety are at risk if you return to your home country. This means you must start over in a new country.
For most refugees, you may be fleeing from your homes with little resources. You may only have the clothes you are wearing and very little money.
It’s difficult for refugees to regain financial independence and security, so they tend to rely on programs to help them establish shelter, work and banking capabilities.
Challenges Refugees Face in America
Arriving in a new, unfamiliar country with very little is one of many challenges you may be facing when you decide to resettle in America. There are several other challenges you may have to overcome as you’re starting your new life.
Here are the seven most common challenges you may face as a refugee in the U.S.
Arriving at your new home and struggling to communicate can be both a frustrating and isolating experience. Without translation assistance, it isn’t easy to find housing, work and establish financial services.
Finding a job and an income is necessary for taking care of yourself, but it can also be challenging. Many refugees struggle to find work in the same occupation they had in their home country because of licenses, certifications or lack of local references.
Many landlords require the first and last month’s rent to move into your apartment and may also include a security deposit. Consider looking into the benefits and drawbacks of renting or purchasing a home. If you are looking to buy your first home, there may be additional steps you have to take to purchase a house, especially for immigrants.
Because of the nature of some American cities, many Americans get to their destinations by car, and in some cities, by train or bus. You can purchase bus and train tickets and annual passes at bus or train stations, or if the city has a designated public transportation location.
If you are looking to move around your new home in a car, this requires purchasing a vehicle and a driver’s license. Getting a license varies by state, which can be difficult to understand and know what documents are necessary to start this process. There are also several identification requirements that many refugees do not have in their possession, such as a birth certificate.
In addition to obtaining a license and buying a car, you’ll also need auto insurance. You’ll have to learn about which policies are the best insurance plan for you and how to compare car insurance rates.
While establishing a bank account and applying for credit cards can help keep your money safe and allow you to purchase items, you may encounter scams and fraud.
While the United States is a melting pot, America has its own cultural norms. Adjusting to these cultural differences and maintaining your personal identity can also be a mentally demanding challenge for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants alike.
Getting regular checkups and having access to medical care are essential for living a healthy life. Healthcare needs can be challenging to find when medical insurance is required. Be aware of scams and fraud in looking for health insurance.
Organizations That Help Resettle Refugees in the US
The United States operates a strict, organized refugee resettlement program, and the process can take years. It starts with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration to pre-screen, interview and get security clearance. By the time a refugee is approved for resettlement, the government knows and is prepared for them.
The State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) has a Reception and Placement (R&P) assistance program to coordinate when and where refugees are resettled. When a refugee arrives, local affiliates greet them at the airport, show them their new home and walk through the resources available to them.
The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, goes beyond the reception and placement program. ORR recommends these nine resettlement agencies.
Church World Service (CWS)
Church World Service (CWS), a nonprofit organization, is working to provide every refugee a home. It works through the U.S. asylum system and refugee resettlement program, and assists refugee communities overseas.
Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
The ECDC offers programs to assist newcomers in becoming self-sufficient, productive members of their communities and provide them with hope for their future.
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM)
EMM, a faith-based organization, resettled almost 600 refugees in 2020 from 29 countries. It has affiliate locations in 12 communities to ensure refugees receive care, hospitality and assistance to build a life in the United States.
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
HIAS is a global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees worldwide. It is over 100 years old with a history of helping Jews flee persecution. It now assists all who are being forced to flee for their lives.
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
In more than 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides clean water, shelter, health care, education and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people.
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
The USCRI provides critical resettlement services to refugees and immigrants to help them become self-reliant and contributing members of their communities.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)
LIRS is several decades old and has helped resettled a half million refugees in that time. It operates in more than two dozen U.S. cities to ensure refugees find a community to call home.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
The USCCB resettles approximately 30% of the refugees who come to the U.S. each year. Its Catholic refugee resettlement network includes over 100 diocesan offices in the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.
World Relief Corporation (WR)
World Relief Corporation (WR) has teams in 100 countries to help those in the most need. As a U.S. resettlement agency, it helps families find housing, learn English, pursue employment, build friendships and create long-term support systems.
Along with understanding U.S. requirements, these agencies also provide a support system for new refugees to help them settle comfortably in their new homes. The agencies provide short-term cash and medical assistance to new arrivals and case management services, English as a Foreign Language classes, job readiness and employment services.
Refugees can find support for the first six to nine months to help them establish a home, job and self-sufficiency.
Financial Support for Refugees
Together, the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program and the nine resettlement agencies plan for the arrival of new refugees and support them through their settlement. They offer financial support for the first few months in the United States and provide education and business skills to help refugees become self-sufficient.
Refugee Assistance Programs
The Office of Refugee Resettlement offers more than a dozen programs to assist refugees in finding a comfortable lifestyle in the United States. These programs range from Cash and Medical Assistance to Microenterprise Development.
The nine resettlement agencies know and understand these programs. Their local offices are the best resources for working through the system and getting the help you need.
What Services Do Refugees Receive?
The services provided by the U.S. government and resettlement agencies are divided into five categories:
- Core Services
- Resources for Minors
These programs involve financial help, education and training, as well as medical treatment and community engagement.
Refugee Cash Assistance
One of the core services provided by the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program is cash assistance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it provides cash assistance to all approved adult refugees.
Most refugees arrive with little to no money, so startup funds are critical for success in their new home. HHS provides agencies an initial sum to get people the essentials for rent, furnishings and clothing.
After the first couple of months, local affiliates assist with monthly expenses for the first eight months.
To be eligible, you must prove your refugee status, participate in work training and meet income requirements. You cannot have more than $6,000 in resources.
How Much Is the Refugee Cash Assistance?
The amount a refugee receives depends on their employment status. According to Washington State’s Economic Services Administration, a single person would receive $363 a month, and a couple would receive $459.
As you earn income, the number drops. As soon as a couple makes more than $839 a month, the family may no longer receive assistance.
Financial Inclusion for Refugees
The mission of the nine resettlement agencies is to provide refugees with a safe home in the U.S. and the resources to become financially independent. The agencies do this with support for their health and well-being as well as training to obtain and maintain employment.
One of the agencies, the International Rescue Committee, lists these steps to reach financial inclusion:
- Identify realistic, achievable career paths.
- Inform refugees about the job market and requirements for specific fields.
- Ensure people can maintain good credit and follow a budget.
- Provide business skills training for in-demand jobs.
- Encourage entrepreneurs to grow their businesses with access to grants and loans.
- Address barriers like language skills, computer skills, childcare and transportation to ensure refugees can maintain employment.
Frequently Asked Questions on Financial Assistance
When you first arrive, you may be overwhelmed by your new environment and have many questions. Here are answers to many common questions to help you get started.
How Can Others Support Refugees
While refugees receive limited government support during their initial few months in the United States, the financial assistance does not go far. People can help support refugees financially and through volunteer work within their communities.
Often, the best support people can offer is to promote a welcoming environment for refugees. Here are several common questions people have regarding ways to help refugees.
States With Sanctuary Cities and Counties
Many U.S. cities publicly declared their support for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers by declaring themselves a sanctuary city or county. These cities and counties limit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from detaining and deporting migrants based on their immigration status.
Below you can see a map of which states in the U.S. has asylum and which do not. You can find out more about which cities and counties have sanctuary jurisdictions through the Center for Immigration Studies.
What Organizations Help Refugees?
Multiple organizations work to help refugees in the United States. These include the nine refugee resettlement agencies that work with the federal government at the national, state and local levels through social service agencies. Along with this connected network of resources, additional nonprofits support specific needs like housing, job training and legal services in local communities.
With 80 million people displaced worldwide, the need to support refugees is greater than ever. International agencies also help with the initial refugee needs as they flee dangerous conditions and look for refuge. Groups like the UNHCR and Amnesty International work to support refugees before they resettled.
Expert Insight on Refugee Resettlement
As refugees resettle in the United States, their experience often is unique and challenging. MoneyGeek reached out to industry experts for their thoughts on the resettlement process, discussing common struggles and ways to overcome them.
- What is the biggest struggle refugees face when coming to the United States, and what is your advice to overcome that challenge?
- How do the U.S. government and resettlement agencies help refugees reach financial independence?
Director of Resettlement Services for Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Associate Director of Strategy at mPOWER Financing
Assistant Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at the National Immigration Forum
AFC®, Co-Creator and Co-Founder at Immigrant Finance & Immigration Attorney, Social Entrepreneur, Financial Educator and Financial and Online Business Coach
Between the U.S. government, nonprofit organizations and social service groups, there are multiple resources available.
- Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR): This is the U.S. program in charge of resettling refugees. The program lists nine resettlement agencies and all services available to new refugees.
- Amnesty International: This well-known nonprofit organization advocates for human rights worldwide. Among its services is outreach to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to protect them from being victims as they make their journey from the home country to a safe, humane location.
- UN Refugee Agency: The UNHCR is the main agency tracking and overseeing the refugee crisis worldwide. It works with every country to find safe resettlement options for those fleeing violence or extreme poverty.
About Danielle Kiser
- Amnesty International. "Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants." Accessed April 17, 2021.
- Brookings. "Welfare Benefits for Non-Citizens." Accessed April 19, 2021.
- National Immigration Forum. "Fact Sheet: U.S. Refugee Resettlement." Accessed April 15, 2021.
- Refugee Processing Center. "Admissions and Arrivals." Accessed April 15, 2021.
- The UN Refugee Agency. "Convention and Protocol: Relating to the Status of Refugees." Accessed May 4, 2021.
- The UN Refugee Agency. "Refugee Population Statistics Database." Accessed April 15, 2021.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Office of Refugee Resettlement." Accessed April 17, 2021.
- Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. "Refugee Cash Assistance." Accessed April 19, 2021.