Trump-era refugee and asylum policies continue to rob the U.S. economy of $9.1 billion annually and deny all levels of American government more than $2 billion per year, according to new academic research.
The study by economist Michael A. Clemens at the Center for Global Development examined the economic ripple effects of the 86% reduction in refugee arrivals and 68% decrease in asylum application from 2017 to 2020.
“Beyond claiming a need for protection, refugees and asylum seekers are economic actors. All are consumers, most are (or become) workers, and many are (or become) investors. All incur fiscal costs by using public services directly or indirectly, and all generate fiscal revenue either directly or indirectly,” Clemens said in his March 2022 working paper titled “The Economic and Fiscal Effects on the United States from Reduced Numbers of Refugees and Asylum Seekers.”
The project included a survey of years of other research projects into the benefits of refugees and asylum recipients on local, state and federal economies.
“A policy causing large reductions in immigration in general creates large negative effects on the overall economy and on the fiscal balance of government,” he wrote. “There is no meaningful controversy in the economic literature about this general, qualitative conclusion.”
The drastic reduction in refugee admissions and asylum cases resulted in close to a $40,000 economic hit per refugee per year, he explained. “These estimates imply that barriers to migrants seeking protection, beyond humanitarian policy concerns, carry substantial economic costs.”
The conclusions of the study offer further proof that Congress must act to create meaningful immigration reforms, said Dan Gordon, vice president of strategic communications for the National Immigration Forum.
“We hope these findings will help move the conversation in Congress along. We’re heartened by the bipartisan conversations that are under way. … The reforms the Alliance for a New Immigration Consensus is pushing for, on border security, a solution for Dreamers and certainty for the agricultural sector, should be possible.”
“We hope these findings will push the administration to move with more urgency to rebuild the nation’s refugee resettlement infrastructure.”
But the White House also needs to be more decisive on immigration, Gordon said. “We hope these findings will push the administration to move with more urgency to rebuild the nation’s refugee resettlement infrastructure. The president was right to aspire to resettling as many as 125,000 refugees this fiscal year, but right now we’re on pace to resettle fewer than 19,000. We must do better, for so many reasons.”
The Biden administration has raised the refugee admission cap to 125,000 from the Trump’s 2020 low ceiling of 18,000, but only 11,411 were actually admitted in 2021 and just over 10,742 so far in 2022, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
But the economic consequences of four years of reduced admissions will not be undone even by a sudden return to pre-Trump resettlement practices, Clemens added. “These costs would continue permanently even if refugee inflows this year returned to their 2016 levels — because that would not replace the number ‘missing’ from the population due to earlier reduced inflows.”
The continued absence of those refugees and asylees multiplies year after year, he explained. “Collectively, the research literature suggests that reducing inflows of refugees and asylum seekers has a negative impact on GDP and on public coffers. This effect cumulates over time, as reduced inflows lead to a smaller and smaller extant population of refugees and asylum seekers relative to a scenario without reduced inflows.”
Claims by immigration opponents that refugees and asylum seekers are a drain on government and social resources are not supported by other studies, he said.
Claims by immigration opponents that refugees and asylum seekers are a drain on government and social resources are not supported by other studies.
“There is no evidence in the research literature that refugees or asylum seekers cause substantial additional public expenditures for reasons other than the benefits received directly by them, their households, and their descendants. In fact, the literature has tested and ruled out various mechanisms by which such indirect fiscal costs might emerge. The most obvious mechanism would be if the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers displaced large numbers of U.S. citizens and permanent residents onto unemployment insurance. But refugee resettlement has no detectable effect on the unemployment rate of U.S. workers at any skill level. Studies have likewise failed to detect an impact of even large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers on U.S. workers’ unemployment.”
Another refrain of anti-immigration proponents is that higher refugee resettlement and asylum levels contribute to higher crime rates.
“But the research literature offers no basis for substantial effects on crime from refugees or asylum seekers on average,” Clemens said. “There is no relationship between crime and the presence of resettled refugees in U.S. counties. … There is likewise no evidence in the literature that asylum seekers cause higher crime rates of any kind.”
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