Abstract: Beyond Employment: Economic Well-Being and Integration Among Immigrants and Refugees in New Spaces (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Beyond Employment: Economic Well-Being and Integration Among Immigrants and Refugees in New Spaces

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hanna Haran, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Yesenia Alvarez Padilla, MSW, Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Arati Maleku, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background: Economic self-sufficiency of refugees is the overarching goal of the US refugee resettlement program. To this end, securing employment and reducing reliance on social service programs are deemed vital to refugee integration. As a result of this narrow focus, literature on economic well-being and integration in the forced migration context, largely centers on economic self-sufficiency often measured through a binary employment variable, degree of dependence on social service programs, and impact on local economies and labor markets. While these measures provide a general understanding of economic integration associated with labor force participation rates and long-term costs of migration, they fail to create a holistic picture of economic well-being and its relationship to economic integration among refugees. To address this gap, our study explored unique barriers and facilitators of economic well-being and economic integration among refugees through diverse immigrant/refugee leaders and human service provider perspectives.

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.