Despite anti-refugee rhetoric in the US, experts note economic contribution from Syrian immigrants

Published December 9th, 2015 - 12:00 GMT

A spate of high-profile terror attacks have fueled anti-refugee sentiments in the U.S. against Syrians, but statistics show those same refugees have made greater economic contributions than their native-born Americans counterparts.

Proponents of tighter restriction for refugee admittance have so far concentrated their singular argument on the potential of terrorists slipping in and staging attacks on American soil.

Following deadly attacks in Paris last month, more than half of all U.S. governors, mostly Republican, declared they would not allow Syrians in their states, while the House of Representatives voted for additional screening procedures to an already restrictive vetting process for Syrian refugees.  

The rhetoric culminated this week when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. 

But the economic contribution of Syrian refugees has been lost in all of the political discussions. That contribution stems from a well-educated population, according to experts.   

"In general, immigrants have been a tremendously positive force for the American economy," said Nicholas Eberstadt.

The political economist and demographer at the American Enterprise Institute told Anadolu Agency that Americans should not buy into anti-refugee bills and discussions taking place in Washington.  

He said some of the resentment against refugees comes for those who have less educational and professional qualifications than the group on which they are passing judgment.

The U.S. should work to improve its own educational system to increase the qualifications of its populace rather than focusing its efforts on banning refugees and immigrants from the country, he said. 

The head of research for U.S. programs at the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute corroborated the educational standards of Syrian refugees.

"Syria, as you may also be aware of, had a very well developed education system before the civil war broke out. In fact, one of the best educated population in the region," said Randy Capps. 

"The overall immigrant population from Syria that came to the U.S. have reflected that," he added, noting that approximately half of Syrian migrants have undergraduate degrees while nearly a quarter of them have graduate and doctoral degrees. 

He told Anadolu Agency that he expects Syrian refugees who would be admitted to the U.S. will fit that model. 

Statistics back up Capps' assessments with figures that show Syrians have had a greater positive effect on the U.S. economy than most migrants of Arab origin and, the overall American population.

Households of Arab origins earn an average annual income of $56,000 but for those of Syrian origins that figures soars to $67,000 -- $15,000 more than the national average of $52,000, according to the Census Bureau.

While the homeownership rate of the overall American population is 64 percent, the rate for Syrians is higher at 69 percent.

Statistics also show that 49 percent of the 80,000 Syrian immigrants in the U.S. are employed in business, management, science or art occupations -- compared to the national average of 38 percent.

Twenty-seven percent of Syrians are employed in sales, 11 percent in services, 10 percent in transportation or production and 3 percent are in natural resources and construction jobs.

A report by the American Migration Council shows that in general, refugees are contributing more to the American economy than native-born Americans.

Working-age refugees entering the U.S. are given work permits and the government expects they would find a job within six months of arrival. 

Of all recently-arrived male refugees, 67 percent are employed while the employment rate of native-born Americans stands at 60 percent, according to the report prepared by George Mason University anthropology professor David Haines. Female refugees are employed at the same rate as native-born women.

“The likely refugees from Syria have some distinctive talents and skills that may well make their adjustment to the United States easier than that of many recent arrivals,” Haines said in the report.

He points out that many of the Syrians have better “language, educational, and urban-living skills that will facilitate the development of new lives” in the U.S.

“These new refugees are likely to share with earlier refugees an especially keen appreciation of the liberties that the United States provides, as they come from places where such liberties do not exist -- where rights are trampled, religious and ethnic minorities oppressed, and opportunities hollowed out,” he said.

Nearly 10 million Syrians have been displaced, of whom more than half are internally displaced, since a civil war began in 2011.

The years of fighting has robbed school-aged Syrians because the war interrupted their education, causing them to fall behind their American peers, said Capps, the research director at the Migration Policy Institute. 

The U.S. has so far admitted 2,300 of 4.2 million Syrian refugees since the beginning of the war, with 1,900 being admitted in 2015, according to State Department records.

And President Barack Obama intends to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees during the 2016 fiscal year.

With the number of Syrian refugees headed for the U.S. set to increase, the so-called debate about who should be allowed entry and how, is sure to continue.

The biggest irony may be that one of the most beloved Americans in recent times is the offspring of a Syrian who migrated to the U.S. amid political unrest.

The biological father of Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, was a Syrian migrant who met the American icon’s mother while teaching and studying at the University of Wisconsin.

If the policies currently being espoused had been in place at the time, many of the Apple iPhones, iPads and laptops used to garner support for the xenophobic policies never would had been invented.

By Kasım İleri

© Copyright Andolu Ajansi

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