There has been a lot of controversy lately about the effectiveness of refugee resettlement programs that the federal government employs to settle refugees in the United States. Earlier this month, Dominic Sarno, mayor of the Massachusetts city of Springfield, wrote to prominent Massachusetts politicians urging a moratorium on resettlements in Springfield, claiming that the refugees have overwhelmed the ability of social services to meet their needs. Other New England mayors in Maine and Rhode Island have expressed similar complaints.
But what effect do these immigrants have on Massachusetts’ businesses? From this narrower perspective, the issue becomes more complex. Here are some of the ways that refugees can have an impact on the businesses in the communities in which they relocate:
Obviously, any increase in the population of a community increases the size of the customer base that businesses have to draw on. When refugees first arrive in a community, the relocation agencies and social welfare programs provide them with money. Coming almost always from a poverty-stricken background, these refugees have to buy many basic goods and services. Therefore, at least initially, the refugees cause a surge in economic activity for the businesses in the communities in which they relocate.
The financial aid that refugees receive lasts only so long. According to the government, about 75% of refugees become self supporting within a year of arriving in the United States. Unfortunately, the remaining refugees sometimes fall back into poverty and become problems to law enforcement. The resulting crime can be directed against the business community.
Those refugees who get jobs are usually good workers, often more eager to please and willing to do difficult or unpleasant tasks than native workers. Therefore, refugees often become hard-working members of the local labor pool and are valuable employees to many businesses.
Although some refugees can be a problem to the business community when they fail to adjust well to resettlement, the overwhelming majority of refugees make good customers and employees for Massachusetts’ businesses. The key appears to be how successfully the refugees are integrated into the community at large.