Refugees play a uniquely important role in our economy. More than almost any other immigrant group, they are motivated to move beyond the place they came from and become American. According to an NAE analysis of likely refugees, a full 84.3 percent of refugees who have been in America between 16 and 25 years have taken the step of becoming U.S. citizens, compared to just over half of all other immigrants in the country that long.1 And although refugees receive assistance upon arriving in the country, they quickly ascend the income ladder. The median individual income of refugees who have been in the country 16 to 25 years is almost triple those who have been here five years or less. In fact, many aging and once declining communities—from Utica, New York to inner city St. Louis—have credited young, entrepreneurial refugees with reinvigorating their local economy and commercial main streets.2

1 Data on this page is based off NAE analysis of likely refugees in the American Community Survey, 2015 sample.
2 Sasha Chanoff, “Refugees Revitalize American Cities,” November 25, 2016. Available online.

Upwardly Mobile

Unlike other immigrant groups, refugees often arrive in the country without a family network or strong connections to local employers. But, much like the many immigrants who came before them, they quickly begin to build new lives and achieve greater economic success. At right, we show how the household incomes of refugees grows with additional time in the United States. By the time a refugee has been in the country for more than 25 years, their household income reaches almost $66,000, far higher than the $53,000 median income of American households overall.

Median Household Income of Refugees, by Length of Time in the United States, 2015
5 Years or Less $24,400
6 and 15 Years $36,000
16 and 25 Years $50,100
More than 25 Years $65,580

Impact on Crime

When a large number of refugees arrive in a given city, does crime rise in subsequent years? To examine this, NAE used FBI crime statistics to look at the crime rate patterns in the 10 cities that resettled the most refugees relative to the size of their population between 2006 and 2015. In nine of the 10 cities, both violent and property rates crime fell, in some cases, dramatically. The one city that saw crime increase was battling a well-documented opioid epidemic during this same period.

Change in Crime Rates in Cities that Resettled the Most Refugees Relative to the Size of their Population, 2006-2015
City Percent Change in Violent Crime Rate Percent Change in Property Crime Rate
Clarkston, Georgia -4.8% -8.0%
Decatur, Georgia -62.2% -8.9%
El Cajon, California -31.7% -43.7%
West Springfield, Massachusetts 87.9% 2.6%
Utica, New York -20.0% -23.6%
Southfield, Michigan -77.1% -46.0%
Syracuse, New York -25.6% -24.9%
New Bern, North Carolina -37.5% -36.5%
Lancaster, Pennsylvania -20.6% -38.1%
Glendale, California -47.1% -10.9%
Twin Falls, Idaho -4.3% -35.4%


Because they have often fled untenable situations back home, refugees tend to be highly motivated to embrace their new lives in America. Refugees have far higher naturalization rates than immigrants in the country overall. They also assimilate into America by quickly acquiring English language skills.

Key Stats
29.3 percent: Share of refugees in the country less than five years who report speaking English very well or exclusively.
53.4 percent: Share of refugees in the country five to 16 years with that level of command of English.
84.3 percent: Share of refugees in the country between 16 to 25 years who have become citizens.
51.2 percent: Share of immigrants in the country overall for that long who have naturalized.

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