Study: Each Resettled Refugee Costs Taxpayers $15,900 a Year

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a pro-American immigration think tank, issued a study Monday showing a strikingly high price tag for resettling refugees in the United States.

When they combined resettlement costs with Medicaid, Food Stamps, public education, public housing, and a bevy of other government programs and benefits, the study’s authors, Matthew O’Brien and Spencer Raley arrived at a figure of $79,600 in taxpayer costs for the first five years of an average refugee’s stay in the U.S., which annualizes to $15,900.

The figures do not include an assessment negative societal impact, if any, from refugee resettlement. The authors write:

It is important to note that this analysis does not address the costs associated with any incurred national security and law enforcement costs associated with some refugees who pose a threat. The total price of additional vetting and screening expenditures, law enforcement and criminal justice costs, and federal homeland security assistance to state and local agencies is hard to quantify.

The $15,900 price tag does not tell the entire fiscal story of refugee resettlement. As advocates of permissive refugee and asylum policy are apt to point out, many refugees do work and contribute to the American economy after resettlement. That contribution has proven difficult to quantify, however. Left-leaning PolitiFact, for example, concluded the extent of that contribution is unclear after a draft Obama-era Health and Human Services report on the matter found a massive offsetting contribution, but was rejected in September.

The FAIR study’s authors, however, provide some data that suggest pessimism as to refugees’ ability to offset their welfare burden in the short-term. “According to [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] ORR, refugees’ earnings are meager throughout their first five years in the United States, increasing from $10.22/hour to $10.86/ hour – only a 6.3 percent increase over five years, on average,” they explain.

Unlike other types of immigration, refugee resettlement is an explicitly humanitarian endeavor. Refugee policy has never been based on a purely fiscal calculation. But, as FAIR’s authors stress, “As the nation considers what levels of immigration we can fiscally and environmentally sustain, it is important to understand the costs of resettling both refugees.”

“Reflecting America’s long tradition of providing refuge to the oppressed, we have admitted over 3.5 million people since 1980 and 96,900 refugees just in the last year in 2016,” reads the study’s summary, concluding:

We continue to admit refugees at a rate of roughly 50,000 to 100,000 refugees per year and 20,000-50,000 political asylees per year. Most of this cohort arrives here without financial resources and possessing few marketable job skills. And the American taxpayer is being asked to feed, clothe and shelter them, in addition to funding job training programs.

The FAIR study’s findings largely comport with the 2015 results of another pro-American immigration reform group, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). At that time, CIS found a figure $64,370 per Middle Eastern refugee during the first five years of resettlement.


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