Abstract: Understanding Long-Term Refuge: Wellbeing Among People Resettled in the United States As Refugees (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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383P Understanding Long-Term Refuge: Wellbeing Among People Resettled in the United States As Refugees

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Stacey Shaw, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Mallory Funk, MSW, Research Assistant, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Background and purpose: The United States (U.S.) refugee resettlement program involves a pathway to citizenship for a small number of forced migrants. In fiscal year 2020, no more than 13,000 refugees may be admitted to the U.S., representing the lowest ceiling since 1980. Due to COVID-19, resettlement has been further restricted. As forced migration continues to increase globally, attention to resettlement opportunities and experiences is needed. This study uses mixed methods to examine the post-resettlement experiences of 88 people who came to the U.S. as refugees.

Methods: We purposively sampled participants from multiple agency and community settings, accessing individuals from diverse backgrounds. Eligibility requirements included being 18 years of age or older and coming to the U.S. as a refugee at least five years prior. All participants currently lived in Utah. Each participant completed an in-depth interview, which lasted an average of 75 minutes. Interviews explored experiences with adjustment, services, and wellbeing. A quantitative assessment also examined safety, food security, homelessness, access to health care, and emotional distress (Refugee Health Screener-15). Interviews were conducted in participant’s language of choice, with interpretation when needed. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded using NVIVO software. Key themes were identified based on a phenomenological approach, attending to participant lived experiences. Quantitative data was analyzed using descriptive statistics within SPSS.

Results: The sample included 44 women and 44 men from 20 countries of origin. On average, participants had lived in the U.S. for 10.8 years. During in-depth interviews, participants described coming to the U.S. with a hope for a better life, which was described as accessing safety, stability, and opportunity. The majority of participants described the value of having basic needs met, such as shelter, safety, and medical care. Participants emphasized that time and financial constraints prevent adults, especially women, from pursuing dreams, including educational and professional goals. These constraints inhibit newcomers from securing higher-wage jobs and achieving financial security. Many participants described a mindset in which they accept current economic limitations and focus on the success of their children. Quantitative findings suggest a few participants felt unsafe in their daily life (5.7%). Some experienced food insecurity (13.6%) or homelessness (4.6%) in the prior 90 days. Additionally, some participants (13.2%) were dissatisfied with their access to health care and nearly half (43%) screened positive for experiencing emotional distress.

Conclusions and implications: Findings highlight both strengths and challenges associated with life in the U.S. post resettlement. Some individuals may benefit from increased support in meeting basic needs related to food and shelter. Others feel they have achieved much of what they had anticipated, but realize many dreams are out of reach due to necessities of survival. Understanding the promise and limitations of U.S. resettlement systems points to ways in which social workers can better support newcomers, strengthen existing services, and advocate for increased opportunities for forced migrants globally.