Method: Participants were recruited using purposive and snowball sampling techniques. This qualitative study consisted of in-depth interviews with immigrant and refugee leaders and service providers in a Midwestern city until theoretical saturation was met (N=11). Interview questions centered on (1) immigrant and refugee economic well-being and integration in the post-migration context, (2) how immigration policy and the narrow focus on economic self-sufficiency affect short and long-term economic outcomes, and (3) solutions to improve economic outcomes and promote the transference of immigrant and refugee skills to the local labor market. All interviews were conducted over the zoom platform and were recorded and transcribed verbatim through zoom. To ensure accuracy, zoom transcriptions were manually reviewed and coded independently by two people from the research team using a codebook. A grounded theory approach of open coding, axial coding, and selective coding using thematic analysis guided the data analysis process. Discrepancies in coding were discussed between the coders and mutually agreed upon overarching themes were generated.
Results: Participants (N=11) represented diverse sub-groups: female (55%) and male (45%); immigrant or refugee background (55%); and experience as a community leader (45%), and service provider (55%). Four overarching themes that highlighted social and economic factors, beyond employment, of economic well-being and integration emerged from the data: (1) Brain waste: Barriers to utilizing skills and reaching their full potential; (2) Coping with economic adversity by making the most of community strengths and resources; (3) The importance of finding fulfillment and meaningful work in new spaces; and (4) ‘We already have the answers:’ community-generated solutions.
Conclusion: Immigrants, particularly refugees with forced displacement experiences face unique barriers to securing employment that utilizes their full skills and abilities. Given the persistent inequities in the labor market and gaps in resettlement processes, these newcomers are often siphoned off into low-wage, low-skill jobs that fail to recognize the many strengths and diverse skills the foreign-born populations bring to the US labor market. Immigrant and refugee leaders and service providers called for the need to provide meaningful economic integration opportunities and the importance of amplifying community voices to advocate for change.