Fiscal Impact of Refugees

Project Type: Emerging Focus Areas

Project Stage: Completed

A common argument for scaling back the US refugee program is a fiscal one: that it places an undue financial burden on governments at all levels. This concern is reflected in Section 10(b) of the January 27th, 2017 Executive Order from the Trump administration concerning the refugee program when it requires that the “…Secretary of State shall, within one year of the date of this order, provide a report on the estimated long-term costs of the USRAP (United States Refugee Admissions Program) at the Federal, State, and local levels.”1 These discussions of the program costs ignore entirely the benefits of the refugee program. Most refugees enter the US workforce and become taxpayers so these fiscal benefits should be added to the equation as well. Estimating the net benefits of the refugee program is difficult because most current economic and demographic surveys do not distinguish refugees from other immigrants and the Federal data on refugees that does exist does not have long term outcomes. In this brief, we outline how to identify a group with a high fraction of refugees in the American Community Survey. As we demonstrate, this group is broadly representative of all refugees resettled to the US over the 1990-2014 period. In this sample, we then examine the economic outcomes of refugees over a 20-year period. Our results suggest that most refugees that enter as children do as well as native born US residents in education attainment and earnings. We then estimate the transfers to and taxes paid by adult refugees that enter at ages 18-45 over their first 20 years in the US. Out results suggest that in present value, the taxes paid by this group exceed support received by $21,200.