In recent years, substantial increases in the numbers of unaccompanied migrant youth (UMY) from Central America have arrived to the US seeking asylum. Yet, little is known about outcomes for this population after their arrival. This exploratory study examines employment outcomes for UMY from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and 23 other countries who exited the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) Program in 2015 (n=191). The study is guided by the following research questions: (1) To what extent do UMY employment outcomes differ by country of origin? (2) To what extent is length of stay in the URM program associated with employment outcomes? (3) To what extent is a UMY’s legal status associated with employment status at time of discharge from the URM program?
The sample includes 191 UMY (77.49% male) who were placed in long-term foster care and semi-independent living facilities while in the URM program. Data were collected by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), and include all children discharged from the URM program in 2015. The dependent variable in the study is employment, measured as a dichotomous variable (1=employed full or part time, 2=not employed). Covariates include length of stay in care (months), age at discharge (years); and gender (1=male, 0=female). Country of origin was measured as three dummy variables for El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, respectively, vs. other. Legal permanency was measured as a dichotomous variable (1=UMY has a Green Card or US citizenship, 0=Other Legal Status). Bivariate analyses include chi-square and independent samples t-tests. Binomial logit models were used to assess the associations between covariates and UMY employment outcomes.
Chi-square analyses indicate UMY from El Salvador are more likely to be unemployed at time of discharge (85.71%) compared to employed at discharge (14.29%) (p<.000), and UMY from other countries are more likely to be employed (71.83%), compared to unemployed (28.17%) at time of discharge (p<.05). Results from a binomial logit model indicate each additional month in care increases the odds of a UMY being employed full or part time by 3.1% (OR=1.031, CI=1.010–1.053, p<.01). Results also indicate the odds of being employed full or part time are 90.4% lower for UMY from El Salvador, compared to other countries (OR=0.096, CI=0.018–0.512, p<.01).
Results suggest social work interventions should focus on the unique needs of UMY based on country of origin, given how UMY from Central American countries exhibit worse employment outcomes compared to youth from other countries. This finding is possibly explained by the unique combination of risk factors – gang violence, poverty, and family separation – many UMY from Central America experience prior to migration. Policy implications include examining how the URM program approaches employment, given the finding that each additional month in care increases the odds of UMY being employed full or part time at time of discharge. This is possibly explained by the intensive services UMY receive from the URM program including living skills training and career counseling, and provides direction for future research.