The Importance of Place for Refugee Employment in the U.S.: A Comparative Case Study Open Access
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This dissertation studies refugee resettlement in the U.S. and develops a framework for understanding a city's capacity for employing refugees who resettle in the U.S. The study exposes the tension between the humanitarian mission of the U.S. Refugee Program and the objective of immediate employment after arrival.The research questions include: 1) How do contextual factors in the destination city relate to refugee employment outcomes? 2) How might deeper consideration of the relationship between city factors and refugee economic outcomes inform policy making in refugee resettlement program? A framework derived from the literatures on urban policy and refugees explores how place-based factors influence initial refugee employment with an embedded comparative case study research design (3 cases, 6 units each). Interview data and 2010 employment outcomes stratified by country of origin and English ability collected on-site in 2011, in addition to public data sets from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics were analyzed. By comparing outcomes of refugees with similar demographic profiles across 3 cities, the research design explores how local policies, attitudes of the receiving community, economic opportunities, ethnic networks, and refugee resettlement organizations influence refugee employment outcomes. The study finds that when comparing pairs of cases, higher refugee employment rates 8 months after arrival are associated with higher relevant job availability and accessibility in the metropolitan area. Job availability is characterized by lower unemployment, a larger low skill job market, a smaller ratio of refugees to metropolitan area population, resettlement agency outreach to employers, larger co-national communities, linguistic clusters in places of employment, a higher percentage of English speakers in the linguistic group, and Right-to-Work policies. The focus on place-based factors fills a gap in previous refugee literature with a general theory about how the local context of U.S. cities interact with refugee employment. The findings have implications for the U.S. Refugee Program's allocations strategy, terms of cash assistance, outcome measurement, and funding structure. Recognizing the employment capacity of a city for refugees enables program administrators to anticipate the cost implications of resettling refugees in that city.