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Net Positive: New Government Study Finds Refugees and Asylees Contributed $123.8 Billion to the US Economy From 2005-2019

Statement from the Wilson Center’s Refugees and Forced Displacement Initiative 

As the American immigration discourse revolves around questions at the Southern border and fears about the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country, a new groundbreaking study by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has found an overwhelming positive fiscal impact stemming from the presence of refugees and asylees in the US. The report, The Fiscal Impact of Refugees and Asylees at the Federal, State, and Local Levels From 2005-2019, shows that refugees and asylees have generated $123.8 billion in net fiscal benefit to the US economy and government budgets, and have contributed more tax revenue than they cost the government over this 15-year period. 

Key takeaways from this study include:  

  1. Government spending on refugees and asylees totaled around $457.2 billion, while refugees and asylees contributed approximately $581 billion in revenue. This shows the initial cost of resettling refugees and processing asylees is offset the longer this population stays longer in the US.  

  2. On a per capita basis, the report finds that refugees and asylees had a comparable positive fiscal impact as the total US population. This indicates refugees and asylees successfully integrate into the US economy when given the opportunity.  

  3. The findings of this government report reaffirm what other studies have found: the socioeconomic impact of resettling refugees in the US is positive.  

The report solely focuses on the populations served by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, and specifically those who were granted asylum or received refugee status in the US after 1980. This includes Special Immigrant Visa holders from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those from Haiti and Cuba. Despite these limitations, the report “compellingly demonstrates the positive fiscal and cultural impact of the US humanitarian program for refugees.”  

In addition to estimating the overall net fiscal impact of refugees and asylees, this federal study provides evidence to inform government decision-making about resettlement programs, including refugee integration and self-sufficiency. The findings should also inform broader policy and research on the net financial benefit of humanitarian programs, and be used by the US government, policymakers, and practitioners to inform response to forced displacement trends and reassert US leadership in global refugee policy. 

The Refugee and Forced Displacement Initiative (RAFDI) welcomes these report findings, which show that sustainable solutions to forced displacement challenges must involve the active participation of refugees as contributors. RAFDI is committed to expanding the space for new perspectives, constructive dialogue, and sustainable solutions to meet the challenges of global forced displacement. 

Related Program

Refugee and Forced Displacement Initiative

The Refugee and Forced Displacement Initiative (RAFDI) provides evidence-based analyses that translate research findings into practice and policy impact. Established in 2022 as a response to an ever-increasing number of people forcibly displaced from their homes by protracted conflicts and persecution, RAFDI aims to expand the space for new perspectives, constructive dialogue and sustainable solu­tions to inform policies that will improve the future for the displaced people.  Read more