I’m an evangelical Republican raised in rural Georgia. The way refugees enrich our economy and the social fabric of our country entirely fits with my politics and faith.
When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, Zarina H. kept working. As a refugee from Afghanistan who has survived tragedy, she knows how to navigate a crisis.
Previously, Zarina sewed jerseys for her company. Today, she produces hundreds of life-saving masks and hospital gowns. Her boss had struggled for years to find enough skilled seamstresses. Now, thanks to Zarina and her 17 colleagues—most of them refugees—frontline healthcare workers are getting the personal protective equipment they desperately need.
Zarina is one of more than 5,600 hardworking refugees my Atlanta-based staffing company has placed with more than 300 employers across the Southeastern United States. Frequently, these companies can’t find Americans with the skills or the desire to fill their open jobs. The refugee workforce has saved some from closing entirely and allowed many others to grow and expand.
It’s why I’m so distressed by the Trump administration’s four-year assault on the refugee resettlement program, including capping refugee admissions at only 15,000 this year. Not only is it a stain on our country’s reputation as a global humanitarian leader, but it’s also detrimental to the economy.
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Since 1980, refugee resettlement has been a hallmark of American democracy. Before Trump, it was never partisan. I’m an evangelical Republican raised in rural Georgia. The way refugees enrich our economy and the social fabric of our country entirely fits with my politics and faith. That’s why I wholeheartedly support President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to restore the refugee resettlement cap to 125,000. It’s crucial that our government —including the senators we’re about to elect in my home state of Georgia—support him.
In my work, I see refugees who land in America with few resources and yet, with steady work and community support, rebuild their lives. They perform reliably at their jobs. Turnover tends to be lower among refugees, saving employers from the effort and cost of rehiring and retraining.
They also purchase homes, raise children, and launch businesses of their own. Zinah, an Iraqi refugee in our network, became a citizen and opened a realty business. My Syrian refugee friend Malek worked at a café and later started a catering company where he now employs five people. Another refugee from Afghanistan, Najib, used his carpentry skills to open a custom wood-carving business.
These newcomers aren’t unique; refugees start businesses at higher rates than US citizens and other immigrants, according to New American Economy (NAE). This entrepreneurial drive will be crucial to leading the US out of the recession.
Refugees also comprise large percentages of the workforce in industries such as meatpacking and manufacturing, which are critical to the American supply chain. In Georgia, refugees paid $407.7 million in taxes and held $1.2 billion in spending power, according to NAE. If Georgia stopped resettling refugees, it would cost the state $3.8 million in income.
Refugees have also been crucial during the pandemic. Over 15% of refugees work in health care. Over 21% are personal care aides and more than 14% are registered nurses, fields that are currently experiencing labor shortages. Researchers predict a shortfall of 510,394 registered nurses by 2030, according to the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and partners.
Refugees also play a significant role in strengthening every point of America’s food supply chain, with 170,000 working in agriculture, food processing, grocery, and restaurant industries. Of those, 46,000 work in food processing, 9,300 of whom are butchers and meat processing workers enduring risky conditions and COVID-19 exposure to keep America fed.
The data makes it abundantly clear: We need refugees in our country and should be doing everything we can to resettle and support them.
I understand that some people might feel skeptical about welcoming immigrants. I grew up in rural Georgia, where tradition governed everything from dress to behavior to belief. We had no friends outside the evangelical Christian faith, and our perceptions of outsiders were colored by negative media messaging.
As an adult, I moved with my wife to Clarkston, a city near Atlanta that’s home to thousands of refugees. Over time, I developed close relationships. Friends from South Sudan recounted the terrors of war and then walking thousands of miles through the desert searching for safety. Friends from the Democratic Republic of Congo described the years they’d lived in overcrowded camps in Kenya, sleeping on dirt floors—or bags of hay if they were lucky—and sharing bathrooms with hundreds of others.
They also showed me America through their eyes. I learned how discrimination, language barriers, and a lack of personal connections made it tough to break into the marketplace, even with their skills and desire to work. Meanwhile, local employers struggled to fill vacancies.
I launched Amplio Recruiting in 2014, hoping to play matchmaker. We grew quickly across Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. Last fall, we opened in Michigan, where an aging population and the flight of young people is shrinking the labor force. Even with high unemployment, the manufacturing, food processing, and construction industries are suffering massive labor shortages. The drastic plunge in refugee resettlements has made it much harder to help companies in need.
As a Christian, I believe “welcoming the stranger” is a Biblical calling. As a business owner, I believe the talent of these newcomers is an economic necessity. Right now, as we face the biggest health crisis of our lifetime and a stark economic landscape, I hope my fellow Americans—including my fellow Republicans and evangelical Christians—will embrace refugees.
Our communities and businesses need more people like Zarina, Malek, and Najib. Now is the time to harness our empathy and common sense. No matter who wins the runoff election this week, Georgia must ensure that refugees feel welcomed and valued. Political leaders need to enact policies that attract and retain refugee talent. Business owners need to ramp up their hiring of refugees to fill widening labor gaps in the skilled trades and manufacturing industries. Individual Georgians need to support, volunteer and connect with these newcomers who bring vibrancy to our communities and keep our economy churning.
Let’s welcome people fleeing devastation and resettle the very people who will help protect our health and rebuild our nation.