By Martin Manna
I don’t have to deliver a history lesson to remind people that this country was founded on immigrants and the vital impact each ethnic group has contributed to the prosperity of this country. Metropolitan Detroit is a shining example! But in a time of increased restrictions on immigrants and a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers, Congress and the Trump Administration need to develop and pass immigration laws that will help fill the talent gap and support persecuted communities throughout the world.
In 2016, nearly 100,000 refugees entered the United States and there has been a drastic decline since then. The restrictions placed by the Trump Administration and the failure for Congress to act are the main reasons few refugees have been admitted into the United States. In 2017, some 28,000 refugees arrived in the United States and this year, that number has taken a plunge to just a few thousand refugees. This decline will only have a negative impact on the country. Those fearful of refugees should know that the vetting process to come to America often takes several years and includes numerous background checks by Homeland Security and others.
There is a shortage of workers. Immigrants and their contribution to the economy could remedy this pressing issue. New research from the Fiscal Policy Institute was released late last month that documented lower turnover rates among refugee employees. In addition to these lowered turnover rates, companies that hired refugees experienced improved management performance. Managerial staffs become more versatile in their skill sets as they adapt to working with diverse employees. The study, based on 100 interviews in four regions of the country and across a number of different industries, found that in an industry like manufacturing, the average annual refugee turnover was 4 percent annually, compared to an overall rate of 11 percent annually. Turnover rates were found to be lower across all industries.
For these employers, the higher retention rate directly translated to increased efficiency. According to the study, “Replacing an employee was estimated for these employers to cost about $5,000—more than enough to offset the costs of hiring and retaining refugee employees.” Another study, released late last year, shows the economic impact and contributions of refugees in southeast Michigan. In the past decade, refugees in southeast Michigan have contributed between $230 million and $295 million.
The study conducted by Global Detroit, an immigrant resource center in Midtown Detroit and the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy showed that refugees from Iraq and Syria who resettled in southeast Michigan give back to the economy in tremendous ways. Ninety percent of refugee arrivals in Metro Detroit were Iraqi, who resettled over 10 years in Wayne, Washtenaw, Macomb and Oakland counties. During that same period, 7 percent of refugees were Syrians. The study found those refugees who have resettled in the last decade have contributed between $229.6 million and $295.3 million, with an estimated 2,311 jobs created. For every dollar spent (by refugees) is more than a dollar of impact on the economy.
The release of the study followed President Donald Trump’s refugee admissions cap, the centerpiece of his policy agenda, announced last September. The administration will allow no more than 45,000 refugees into the United States in this year. It is believed to be the lowest admissions level in more than a decade.
Some 30,000 Chaldean Iraqi refugees have been admitted to Southeast Michigan between 2007-2016 due to the genocide committed against the community and other minorities in Iraq. A 2016 Dbusiness report estimated that Chaldeans contribute more than $10.7 billion annually to Michigan’s economy. Most Chaldeans, like other immigrant communities, are entrepreneurs. A recent study from the University of Michigan Dearborn School of Business and the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce demonstrates that nearly 60 percent of Chaldean households own at least one business. Refugees from the Middle East are not a burden on government or resources. Proving to be the exact opposite, they are problem solvers and job creators.
In recent years, the resettlements of Chaldeans became necessary. It is because of immigrant communities and their businesses, that many communities have flourished. As small business owners, we are among the state’s largest employers, further reinforcing the fact that refugees are not stealing jobs but creating them.
Ultimately, what both of these studies tell us, is that the positive outcomes they have unearthed are at odds with the restrictions the Trump Administration is imposing on the number of refugees that will be allowed into the country. While the rest of the world recognizes the massive contributions of refugees and welcomes all they have to offer, the United States is in retrograde as we prepare to take in the lowest number of resettled refugees in decades. That said, whatever legislative and regulatory solutions are agreed upon, the Trump Administration and members of the US House of Representatives and US Senate must both be mindful of the charge in the Preamble to our Constitution to “provide for our common defense” while mindful of the other charge in the Preamble to “promote the general welfare”.
It is my hope the current legislative deliberations underway with the Republicans in the US House of Representatives bear fruit. Though what is definitively needed is a bi-partisan solution, such as was had when the last major piece of comprehensive immigration reform (imperfect though it was) passed in 1986 – 32 years ago!
Martin Manna is the President of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and Chaldean Community Foundation. Martin originally penned this piece for dBusiness