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Resettled Refugees Contribute Millions to Wisconsin Economy

Since it first opened its doors in 2012, the Christian nonprofit World Relief Fox Valley has resettled 700 refugees in Appleton and Oshkosh, in Wisconsin. “The communities have been supportive, and anyone who doesn’t support the mission doesn’t understand the program or who refugees are,” says the organization’s director, Tami McLaughlin. “They think they’re taking jobs and using our benefits, but over the long term, they truly do add economic and cultural value to our communities.”

McLaughlin’s team of 11 people resettles refugees, most of whom are from Myanmar (Burma), and helps them find employment. “Education and training are important, and there are a lot of cultural and social differences, so we’re mostly placing people in entry-level positions at first,” she says. “We have great relationships with our employers, who, after five years, are doing this both out of the goodness of their hearts and because they benefit from this workforce.”

Our very first arrival from five years ago was a family of three. They’ve since purchased a home, purchased two cars, found very good jobs, and expanded their family with a second child.

Accelerating immigrants’ English proficiency, for example, reaps great benefits for the regional and national economy; studies show that a lack of English skills is the largest contributor to underemployment and a major contributor to unemployment in the immigrant population. Combined, these factors rob the U.S. economy of tens of billions of dollars in spending power and deprive federal and state governments of billions of dollars in annual tax revenue.

Now, five years after the Fox Valley office opened, McLaughlin’s earliest clients are becoming eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, and many have moved up the ranks at their jobs to  become increasingly important, contributing members of the community. “Our very first arrival from five years ago was a family of three. They’ve since purchased a home, purchased two cars, found very good jobs, and expanded their family with a second child,” she says. “They’re great residents and great community members.” According to New American Economy research, immigrants in the congressional district, in east-central Wisconsin, hold nearly $500 million worth of annual spending power.

In the wake of the 2016 election, McLaughlin says many of her clients are fearful, and she believes the country needs to see government action that better considers the contributions that immigrants and refugees bring. “People who are here and who are contributing to our communities — and I think most are, in positive ways — we can find a way for them to become either legal residents or even permanent residents,” she says. “Let’s welcome them, receive them, and help them make a good life. They’re determined and resilient, and we should embrace that.”

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