Refugee Resettlement Basics: Part 2

World Relief’s Director of Refugee Resettlement, Christy Hillebrand, is back to answer more questions about resettlement in the United States!

Question: How much money does the government give to each refugee to help them settle here?

Answer: World Relief Chicago refugee receives $1125 per person to spend on the refugee’s behalf as a part of the initial State Department grant to resettle them in the United States (so, for a family of 4, the amount would be $4,500 for example). This money is intended to be used to rent an apartment and set it up with a few furniture items and groceries. As you can tell, this money doesn’t go very far with rent costing as much as it does in Chicago! We always look for roommates for newly arrived refugees to try to stretch this money as far as we can. Refugees also receive a limited amount of cash assistance and food stamps on a monthly basis upon arrival, but this assistance is small and only lasts for a short time until the refugee begins working.

Q: Once they’re here, can they lose government assistance for any reason?

A: Yes, refugees lose public assistance (cash, food stamps, and medical assistance) once they exceed the income requirements for those programs.

Q: How do refugees find housing? Is it free?

 A: Our World Relief Chicago team helps refugees find their first place to live once they’ve arrived in the country. After that, refugees are free to move or find their next place to move as they please.

After the initial $1125 from the State Department runs out, refugees pay for rent on their own with money they’ve earned from working. Knowing they will have to pay for rent so quickly means that refugees are eager to get to work as quickly as possible.

 Q: Is there information on how much money the government spends on supporting refugee on a long term basis?

A: This is an interesting question, and one that I’m always excited to talk about. It’s easy to think about welcoming refugees to the US on purely humanitarian terms, but studies have consistently shown that refugees give more back in taxes over time than our society spends to get them started here, and support a few that are unable to work because of disabilities, old age, or sickness.

There are two studies I’ll point you toward that I’ve found most helpful. One is a study the city of Cleveland did regarding the economic impact of refugees on their city. The other is a study published by one of the leading think tanks on migration issues, the Migration Policy Institute. Both of these studies show that over time, refugees access benefits and become self-sufficient at similar or better rates than native-born Americans, and their presence in our cities is a net benefit economically.

Q: Is there data that shows how long it takes a refugee family to become self-sustaining?

 A: The short answer to this question is 3-6 months—that’s how long it typically takes for a refugee family to gain employment and be able to pay for their own bills. The long answer to how long it takes a refugee family to feel like they are truly on their feet is more complicated, and is the subject of much study. In addition to the two studies linked in the previous question, there is another great study about refugee integration into the work force over time by the Center for American Progress that we’re linking to here for those of you interested in a deeper answer.

Q: Are refugee children allowed to attend public schools? If so, how soon are the children enrolled?

 A: Yes, refugee children attend public schools. In Chicago, there is Newcomer’s Academy that is designed specifically to address the unique situation refugee children face in adjusting to life in Chicago. The State Department grant that World Relief Chicago receives to welcome new families requires that we assist children to enroll in school within 30 days after arriving in the US. Chicago Magazine released a story about the Chicago Newcomer’s Academy last year, Welcome to Refugee High that can give you an inside look at what it’s like to be a young refugee here.



World Relief Chicago is a refugee resettlement agency and provides immigration legal services to the Chicago community.  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or learning more, visit our website. Our most urgent needs are for Health Advocates, Medical Appointment Transporters, and In-Home ESL tutors.

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