Refugees & Immigrants

Strategies that create a welcoming environment for refugees and immigrants and promote their economic self-sufficiency can help to spur population growth, diversity and community revitalization.

  • Bolster programs and services that promote economic self sufficiency of refugees and immigrants.
  • Engage in community education and outreach to create a welcoming environment for refugees and immigrants.
  • Why This Strategy Matters

    Refugees and immigrants face a number of legal, cultural, and financial hurdles when taking steps to become financially stable, like finding a job, applying for public assistance, or starting a business. The language barrier is often the biggest challenge refugees and immigrants face—15% of all foreign born residents in the region do not speak English well or at all, and this share is likely higher for recent refugees and immigrants. These challenges limit the financial self-sufficiency of refugees and immigrants—poverty rates for foreign born families with children (39%) are nearly twice as high as those born in the US (20%). Service providers that tailor their programs to the needs and challenges of refugees and immigrants can ease their transition to an economically secure life in the US.

  • Potential Action Steps

    Raise awareness of federal requirements for language assistance through proactive outreach in neighborhoods where refugees are concentrated at cultural centers, ethnic festivals, places of worship, ethnic grocers, and community-based organizations.

    Engage federal locally-elected leaders in advocating for a longer window of benefits provided under resettlement programs.

    Increase access to ENL (English as a New Language), job training, mental health care and culturally preferred nutritious food. Promote access to and use of follow-up services after initial consultations.

    Foster refugee and immigrant entrepreneurship through training, technical assistance and business development resources at area universities.

    Ensure refugees have meaningful access to affordable, or HUD supported, housing.

    Develop one-stop locations, or online resource portals, that connect refugees and immigrants with the full array of resources they need to access key social services, with resources made available in commonly spoken languages.

  • Potential Actors in the Community

    Immigrant and refugee service providers
    Elected officials and policymakers
    Housing service providers
    Language assistance service providers
    Financial education service providers
    Business community
    Workforce development organizations

Models to Consider

  • Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

    Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians

    Philadelphia, PA

    The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is a non-profit organization out of Philadelphia that collaborates with other service providers, employers, economic development organizations, and local governments to support immigrants and refugees in the community and build a more dynamic local economy. The Welcoming Center serves as a "one-stop shop" connecting immigrants to the wide range of services critical to a successful transition to life in the US, including employment, entrepreneurship, education and training, and community engagement. The Welcoming Center also partners with local governments to promote language access for new Americans within governmental departments and agencies. Since its founding in 2003, the organization has served over 17,000 people from more than 150 nations.
  • Tacoma Community House

    Tacoma Community House

    Tacoma, WA

    Tacoma Community House (TCH) offers a comprehensive set of services to support refugees and immigrants. TCH focuses on building the self-sufficiency of refugees and immigrants from across the globe through four core program areas—education, employment, immigration services, and crime victim advocacy. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice, TCH provides legal immigration services to clients for free or at a reduced cost, overcoming financial barriers many immigrants face. TCH's client advocacy work focuses on undocumented women with children living in poverty who have suffered from violence and abuse, developing "safety plans" for all crime victims served. TCH also sponsors the REACH Center, a one-stop youth center that provided over 24,000 hours of one-on-one support and counseling and found jobs for over 400 youth in 2017. TCH relies on the work of volunteers to carry out its mission, but also collected over $4.2 million in public support through contracts, foundations, and other contributors while providing services to over 3,500 clients from 105 different countries in 2017.
  • International Institute of Minnesota

    International Institute of Minnesota

    St. Paul, MN

    The International Institute of Minnesota works to help immigrants and refugees become self-sufficient members of their new communities. The Institute supports this mission by providing a wide-ranging set of services including workforce development, housing and health services, education, as well as legal services for citizenship and immigration. With the help of its strong online presence, featuring a blog, newsletter, and Facebook page, the Institute is proactive in advocacy efforts, volunteer recruitment, and fundraising. The Institute also works directly with employers, promoting the hiring of refugees and offering free services to businesses to increase the long-term success of new Americans in their new jobs, targeting occupations in healthcare and hospitality. Over 3,700 New Americans from 104 nations received support from the Institute in 2018, including 165 who found a job through their Careers Pathways programs. The organization operated with a budget of over $4 million in 2018, raised primarily from government grants, corporate and foundation grants, events, donations, and investment income.
  • Why This Strategy Matters

    For refugees and immigrants to transition successfully to life in the US, the communities where they relocate need to provide a welcoming environment. However, insights from residents show how some long-time residents feel that assistance programs and support services favor new immigrants over their needs. Facilitating positive interactions between refugees and current community members can lead to successful, productive transitions. Promoting shared values and educating community members on the positive impact refugees have on a community’s culture and economy can lay common ground for understanding and foster successful outcomes for refugees, immigrants, and their new communities.

  • Potential Action Steps

    Overcome language barriers by employing people in government services and provider agencies who are fluent in languages commonly spoken by refugees and immigrants.

    Involve parents of new American students in school programs and after-school activities.

    Raise awareness among employers of the benefits of diversity in the workplace and support employers as they commit to hiring diverse populations, potentially by providing cultural sensitivity training to build welcoming workplace environments.

    Advocate for refugees and immigrants by researching and quantifying the positive economic and cultural impacts they have on local communities.

    Host community events to raise cultural awareness of immigrant and refugee populations.

    Include refugee voices and perspectives in community planning processes, policy development and program implementation.

    Provide volunteer English tutors to eligible adult students new to speaking English through programs designed to tailor to individual language-learning needs.

    Build strong relationships between newly arrived immigrants and community stakeholders to help provide guidance related to medical needs, housing, and employment.

  • Potential Actors in the Community

    Immigrant and refugee service providers
    Elected officials and policymakers
    Housing service providers
    Language assistance service providers
    Financial education service providers
    Business community
    Block clubs and community organizations
    Public school districts

Models to Consider

  • Circles USA

    Circles USA

    Various location across the U.S.

    Circles USA is an organization that connects those living in poverty with middle- and high-income volunteers who provide guidance and support through three stages: crisis management and stabilization; education and job placement; and job retention, advancement, and economic stability. Circles chapters also help those living in poverty identify and eliminate the Cliff Effect, where an increase of income triggers a loss of benefits worth more than the increase in income. Some chapters receive support from the organization in launching Poverty Reduction Labs to comprehensively map out poverty relief programs in their communities. Originally created as the Move the Mountain Leadership Center in Ames, Iowa, Circles USA is now in 80 locations across 22 states and parts of Canada. After 20 years of work, Circles USA has a successful track record of bringing people out of poverty, evidenced by studies showing the program's efficacy, as well as financial support from 300+ foundations, individuals, and corporations. The Circles USA model is used by service providers, schools, religious groups, hospitals, workforce trainers, community centers, hospitals, and others.
  • Project SHINE


    Launched in 1985 at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, Project SHINE (Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders) is a national consortium with local chapters in over 15 U.S. cities that connect older immigrants who struggle with language and cultural barriers with student tutors. Since 1997, Project SHINE has helped over 40,000 immigrants. Not only do participants gain English and literacy skills, but they also learn about U.S. history and civics in preparation for the citizenship exam. In this regard, Project SHINE has been particularly impactful; participants in Project SHINE are twice as likely as other older immigrants to pass the citizenship exam their first time. In addition, Project SHINE has a workforce development program, through which participants can get help preparing their resumes and learning to navigate the job search and interview process in the U.S.
  • Welcoming America

    Welcoming America

    Decatur, GA and various locations across the U.S.

    Welcoming America is a non-profit organization leading a growing network of local governments and non-profit organizations across the nation working to grow community support and create welcoming environments for resettling refugees. Welcoming America is unique in that it works with local organizations and existing programs to provide tools and resources, rather than supporting a single program. To date, over 200 organizations have joined the Welcoming Network. Member organizations pay annual dues and in return gain benefits like access to training, resources, events, scholarships, committee positions, and more. The organization also hosts an annual "Welcoming Week" when a number of events bring together immigrants and US-born residents to share stories, best practices, and lay the groundwork for common understanding between new Americans and their new communities. In 2018, 400 communities participated in Welcoming Week. Currently, Westminster Economic Development Initiative is the only organization in Western New York listed as a member of the Welcoming Network. Welcoming America is financially supported through partnerships with corporate, government, philanthropic, and faith-based entities, as well as through annual dues of member organizations.

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