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Annual ORR Reports to Congress - 2005: II. Refugees in the United States

Published: May 6, 2014

II. Refugees in the United States

This section characterizes the refugee, Amerasian, and entrant population (hereafter, referred to as refugees unless noted otherwise) in the U.S., focusing primarily on those who have entered since 1983. All tables referenced by number appear in Appendix A.7

Nationality of U.S. Refugee Population

Southeast Asians remain the largest refugee group among recent arrivals.8 Thirty-three percent of the 2,053,984 refugees who have arrived in the U.S. since the ORR refugee database was created in 1983 have fled from nations of Southeast Asia (refer to Table 1, Appendix A). Prior to 1983, the proportion was much higher, as evidenced by supplementary admission data supplied by the Department of State. According to their data, the proportion of refugees who arrived since 1975 that fled from Southeast Asia is 50 percent (refer to Table II-1, this section).

Vietnamese continue to be the majority refugee group from Southeast Asia, although the ethnic composition of the entering population has become more diverse over time. About 135,000 Southeast Asians fled to America at the time of the collapse of the Saigon government in 1975. Over the next four years, large numbers of boat people escaped Southeast Asia and were admitted to the U.S. The majority of these arrivals were Vietnamese. The Vietnamese share has declined gradually, especially since persons from Cambodia and Laos began to arrive in larger numbers in 1980.

For the period FY 1983 through FY 2005, Vietnamese refugees made up 70 percent of refugee arrivals from Southeast Asia, while 19 percent were from Laos, and 11 percent were from Cambodia. More recently, refugees from outside of Southeast Asia have arrived in larger numbers. Between FY 1988 and FY 2005, refugees arriving from the former Soviet Union have surpassed refugees arriving from Vietnam every year except FY 1991. More recently, since FY 1995, refugees from the former Soviet Union and Vietnam were surpassed by refugees arriving from Cuba. Finally, since FY 1998, refugees from the former Yugoslavia eclipsed all other refugee groups until FY 2002, when entrants from Cuba and refugee arrivals from Africa began to dominate arrivals. In FY 2005, refugees from Africa comprised 38 percent of total refugee arrivals.

Since ORR began keeping records of refugee arrivals in 1983, refugees from five countries have represented 77 percent of all arrivals: the former Soviet Union (25 percent), Vietnam (23 percent), Cuba (13 percent), the former Yugoslavia (8 percent), and Laos (6 percent).

Geographic Location of Refugees

Southeast Asian refugees have settled in every State and one territory of the United States (refer to Table 2, Appendix A). From FY 1983 through FY 2003, more Southeast Asians initially resettled in California than any other State (35 percent). For the same period, more non-Southeast Asians resettled in New York than any other State (16 percent).

The majority of refugees initially resettling in California arrived from Vietnam (37 percent) followed by refugees from the former Soviet Union (23 percent). Sixty-six percent of the refugees initially resettling in New York were from the former Soviet Union followed by refugees from Vietnam (7 percent). Eighty-five percent of the refugees initially resettling in Florida arrived from Cuba and Haiti. In Texas, the largest proportion of refugees came from Vietnam (44 percent) and the former Yugoslavia (9 percent). In the State of Washington, the largest proportion of refugees came from the former Soviet Union (47 percent) and from Vietnam (24 percent).

Table II-1:  Summary of Refugee Admissions for FY 1975 - FY 2005

Fiscal
Year
Africa East Asia Eastern
Europe
Soviet Union Latin 
America
Near East
Asia
1975 0 135,000 1,947 6,211 3,000 0
1976 0 15,000 1,756 7,450 3,000 0
1977 0 7,000 1,755 8,191 3,000 0
1978 0 20,574 2,245 10,688 3,000 0
1979 0 76,521 3,393 24,449 7,000 0
1980 955 163,799 5,025 28,444 6,662 2,231
1981 2,119 131,139 6,704 13,444 2,017 3,829
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
3,412
2,645
2,749
1,951
1,322
1,990
1,593
1,902
3,453
4,420
5,470
6,967
5,860
4,827
7,604
6,065
6,887
13,043
17,561
19,021
2,548
10,717
29,125
20,749
73,755
39,245
51,978
49,962
45,482
40,099
35,371
45,722
51,598
53,522
51,899
49,817
43,564
36,987
19,321
8,594
10,854
10,206
4,561
3,725
3,525
1,724
8,079
12,071
11,109
11,867
10,096
9,233
8,503
8,396
7,510
8,752
6,094
6,837
2,915
2,582
7,707
10,070
12,145
21,401
30,842
24,497
22,561
15,777
5,439
2,525
489
141
2,760
1,342
721
623
799
3,699
20,411
39,602
50,628
39,226
61,397
48,773
43,854
35,951
29,816
27,331
23,557
17,410
15,103
15,748
9,963
8,744
8,765
11,175
580
691
150
151
131
323
2,497
2,604
2,305
2,253
3,065
4,071
6,156
7,629
3,550
2,996
1,627
2,110
3,232
2,973
1,933
452
3,556
6,700
6,480
5,428
4,699
5,784
5,909
10,021 8,368
6,938
4,979
5,342
6,903
6,987
5,840
4,510
3,967
4,101
3,313
4,098
10,129
12,060
3,702
4,260
2,854
2,977
1975-2004
GrandTotal
184,955 1,300,694 270,313 616,275 89,414 145,709

Note: This chart does not include an additional 8,214 refugees admitted between FY 1988 and FY 1993 under the Private Sector Initiative (PSI) or the 14,161 Kosovar refugees admitted in FY 1999. Numbers listed above for Latin America exclude Cuban and Haitian entrants.

Source: Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S Department of State . Totals do not correlate directly with ORR database.

Tables do not include refugees who arrived prior to FY 1983. However, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State, reports 805,644 arrivals for the period FY 1975 through FY 1982.

Southeast Asian refugees are almost entirely represented by Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese.

California , New York, and Florida have resettled the greatest number of refugees to date (refer to Table 2, Appendix A). California received the most refugees from FY 1983 through FY 1994; since FY 1995, Florida has resettled the largest number of refugees every year but FY 1997, when New York resettled the most refugees.

For FY 2005, arrivals followed the resettlement pattern of previous years (refer to Table 3, Appendix A). As in previous years, the largest number came to Florida where the majority of arrivals entered from Cuba (95 percent). California and Minnesota came next due to the large influx of Hmong refugees from Laos (44 percent) of arrivals in California arrivals and 46 percent of Minnesota arrivals. In Texas, refugees from Cuba (17 percent) made up the largest proportion, while 66 percent of Washington arrivals came from the former Soviet Union.

Secondary Migration

The Reception and Placement program (see page 55) ensures that refugees arrive in communities with sufficient resources to meet their immediate needs and a caseworker to assist them with resettlement and orientation. Refugees need not stay in the community of initial resettlement, and many leave to build a new life elsewhere. A number of explanations for secondary migration by refugees have been suggested: better employment opportunities, the pull of an established ethnic community, more generous welfare benefits, better training opportunities, reunification with relatives, or a more congenial climate.

The Refugee Assistance Amendments of 1982 amended the Refugee Act of 1980 (section 412(a) (3)) directing ORR to compile and maintain data on the secondary migration of refugees within the United States. In response to this directive, ORR developed the Refugee State-of-Origin Report (ORR-11) for estimating secondary migration. Beginning with FY 1983, the principal use of the ORR-11 data has been to allocate ORR social service funds to States. The most recent compilation was September 30, 2005.

The method of estimating secondary migration is based on the first three digits of social security numbers which are assigned geographically in blocks by State. With the assistance of their sponsors, almost all arriving refugees apply for social security numbers immediately upon arrival in the United States. Therefore, the first three digits of a refugee’s social security number are a good indicator of his or her initial State of residence in the U.S. If a refugee currently residing in California has a social security number assigned in Nevada, for example, the method treats that person as having moved from initial resettlement in Nevada to current residence in California.

States participating in the refugee program provide ORR-11 data for refugees currently receiving assistance or services in their programs (for the most recent three-year period). Compilation of ORR-11 data by all reporting States results in a 51 x 51 State matrix which contains information on migration from each State to every other State. In effect, State A’s report shows how many people have migrated in from other States, as well as how many people who were initially placed in State A are currently there. The reports from every other State, when combined, show how many people have left State A.

Available information indicates that much of the secondary migration of refugees takes place during their first few years after arrival and that the refugee population becomes relatively stabilized in its geographic distribution after an initial adjustment period. The matrix of all possible pairs of in- and out-migration between States can be summarized into total in- and out-migration figures reported for each State. Examination of the detailed State-by-State matrix showed several migration patterns: a strong movement in and out of California; a strong movement into Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington; a strong movement out of New York and Texas; and some population exchange between contiguous or geographically close States.

Almost every State experienced both gains and losses through secondary migration. Twenty-one States gained additional refugees through secondary migration. The largest net in-migration was recorded for Minnesota (2,310), Florida (1,942) and California (1,524). Texas (1,108), California (1,069), and New York (1,007) experienced the largest out-migration.

Economic Adjustment

Economic self-sufficiency is as important to refugees as adapting to their new homeland’s social rhythms. Towards that end, the Refugee Act of 1980 and the Refugee Assistance amendments enacted in 1982 and 1986 stress the achievement of employment and economic self‑sufficiency by refugees as soon as possible after their arrival in the United States. This involves a balance among three elements: (1) the employment potential of refugees, including their education, skills, English language competence, and health; (2) t he needs that they as individuals and members of families have for financial resources, whether for food, housing, or childcare; and (3) the economic environment in which they settle, including the availability of jobs, housing, and other local resources.

Past refugee surveys have found that the economic adjustment of refugees to the U.S. has been a successful and generally rapid process. However, similar to 2003, the 2004 process of refugee economic adjustment appears to have met with some difficulty, most likely due to the residual effects of the 9/11 crisis on the U.S. population. Nevertheless, according to the employment information retrieved from this year’s refugee population study, refugees in the five-year population achieved a level of economic achievement only marginally lower than the population of the U.S., as evidenced by their employment rates, labor force participation rates, and unemployment rates, which may indicate that integration into the mainstream of the U.S. economy is proceeding steadily, albeit at a slower pace than in past years.

Gauges of Economic Adjustment

In 2005, ORR completed its 34th survey of a national sample of refugees selected from the population of all refugees who arrived between May 1, 2000 and April 30, 2005. The survey collected basic demographic information, such as age and country of origin, level of education, English language training, job training, labor force participation, work experience and barriers to employment, for each adult member of the household. Other data were collected by family unit, including housing, income, and welfare utilization data.

To evaluate the economic progress of refugees, ORR relied on several measures of employment activity employed by economists. The first group of measures relates to employment status in the week before the survey and includes the employment‑to‑population ratio (or EPR), the labor force participation rate, and the unemployment rate. In addition, data on work experience over the past year and number of hours worked per week were analyzed, as well as reasons for not working. Data are also presented on the length of time it took refugees to gain their first job since arrival in the U.S.

Employment Status

Table II-2 presents the employment rate (EPR) in October 2005 for refugees 16 and over in the five-year population.9 The survey found that the overall EPR for all refugees who came to the U.S. between 2000 and 2005 was 58 percent (68.1 percent for males and 48.3 percent for females). As a point of reference, the employment rate for the U.S. population was 62.7 percent in 2005.

Economic conditions in the U.S. as a whole influence the ability of refugees to find employment, and these conditions have varied in the past decade. Table II-3 describes the history of U.S. and refugee participation in the labor force for surveys conducted since FY 1993, the year that the Annual Survey was expanded to include refugees from all

TABLE II-2 – Employment Status of Refugees by Year of Arrival and Sex: 2005 Survey

 

Employment Rate (EPR)

Labor Force Participation Rate

Unemployment Rate

Year of Arrival

All

Male

Female

All

Male

Female

All

Male

Female

2005

48.4%

60.3%

36.0%

68.4%

77.2%

59.3%

20.0%

16.9%

23.3%

2004
47.9
59.6
36.8
54.4
65.6
43.6
6.4
6.1
6.8

2003

64.2

74.0

55.7

72.4

80.4

65.5

8.2

6.3

9.7

2002

57.0

65.8

49.2

62.2

71.4

54.0

5.2

5.6

4.8

2001

68.3

76.4

59.8

72.4

80.1

64.2

4.0

3.7

4.4

2000

62.5

73.8

52.1

66.7

79.5

54.8

4.2

5.7

2.7

Total Sample
58.0
68.1
48.3
64.7
74.5
55.4
6.8
6.3
7.1
U.S. Rates
62.7
69.6
56.2
66.0
73.3
59.3
5.1
5.1
5.1

Note: As of October 2005. Not seasonally adjusted. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005.

regions of the world. During this time, the national employment rate varied little, with the current U.S. employment rate (63 percent) almost equal to the 1993 rate and the peak rate (64 percent) recorded in 2000. The refugee employment rate, on the other

hand, has not tracked the U.S. rate. In the 1993 survey, refugee employment (33 percent) was barely more than half the U.S. rate (63 percent). Over the next seven years, the refugee rate soared 34 percentage points, while the U.S. rate climbed only two percentage points to 64 percent. In both 2000 and 2001 surveys, the refugee employment rate exceeded the U.S. rate by three points.

Soon after, however, the economy began to soften. The overall U.S. rate has since retreated three points to 63 percent. The refugee rate, on the other hand, has been much more volatile, retreating 13 points (to 55 percent) in 2003 and rebounding last year to 63 percent. However, the 2005 refugee rate regressed five points to (58 percent) and has fallen behind the national rate by five points.

Table II-3 also contains data on the labor force participation rate for refugees 16 and over in the five-year population.10 This rate is closely related to the employment rate, except it includes individuals looking for work as well as those currently employed. In October 2005, the overall labor force participation rate for the five-year refugee population was 65 percent one point lower than the overall U.S. rates. Refugee males (75 percent) sought and found work at a much higher rate than refugee females (55 percent).

The 2005 refugee labor force participation rate parallels the significant increase in the refugee employment rate this year. The 2005 rate (65 percent) significantly down from the year before (69 percent) and is now five points off the peak year of 2000 (70 percent.)

Table II-3 – Employment Status of Refugees by Survey Year and Sex
(Based on Refugees Age 16 and Older)

 

Employment Rate (EPR)

Labor Force Participation Rate

Unemployment Rate

Year Survey Administered

All

Male

Female

All

Male

Female

All

Male

Female

2005 Survey

58.0%

68.1%

48.3%

64.7%

74.5%

55.4%

6.8%

6.3%

7.1%

U.S. Rate

62.7

69.6

56.2

66.0

73.3

59.3

5.1

5.1

5.1

2004 Survey

62.6

70.8

52.5

69.3

77.1

59.9

6.7

6.2

7.4

U.S. Rate

62.3

69.2

56.0

66.0

73.3

59.2

5.5

5.4

5.6

2003 Survey

55.2

64.0

45.3

61.0

69.1

51.8

5.7

5.1

6.4

U.S. Rate

62.3

68.9

56.1

65.7

72.8

59.2

6.0

6.3

5.7

2002 Survey

60.8

65.6

55.2

67.1

72.3

61.3

6.4

6.8

6.1

U.S. Rate

62.7

69.7

56.3

67.8

74.8

61.3

5.8

5.9

5.6

2001 Survey

62.0

67.7

56.3

66.6

72.7

60.5

6.9

6.9

7.0

U.S. Rate

63.7

70.9

57.0

67.6

74.9

60.9

4.7

4.8

4.7

2000 Survey

60.8

72.6

62.7

70.1

74.9

65.1

3.3

3.0

3.7

U.S. Rate

64.4

71.9

57.5

67.2

76.6

60.9

4.0

3.9

4.1

1999 Survey

66.8

72.3

61.1

68.9

74.4

63.3

3.1

2.8

3.5

U.S. Rate

64.3

71.6

57.4

67.1

76.7

60.7

4.2

4.1

4.3

1998 Survey

56.0

62.7

49.4

59.1

65.9

52.3

5.2

4.9

5.6

U.S. Rate

64.1

71.6

57.1

67.1

76.8

60.4

4.5

4.4

4.6

1997 Survey

53.9

62.9

45.1

58.3

67.1

49.5

7.5

6.3

9.0

U.S. Rate

63.8

71.3

56.8

67.1

77.0

60.5

4.9

4.9

5.0

1996 Survey

51.1

58.8

43.3

57.5

65.7

49.2

11.2

10.6

12.0

U.S. Rate

63.2

70.9

56.0

66.8

76.8

59.9

5.4

5.4

5.4

1995 Survey

42.3

49.5

35.1

49.8

57.4

42.1

15.1

14.0

16.6

U.S. Rate

62.9

70.8

55.6

66.6

76.7

59.4

5.6

5.6

5.6

1994 Survey

35.5

41.2

29.8

43.6

50.7

36.5

18.8

18.9

18.6

U.S. Rate

62.5

70.4

55.3

66.6

76.8

59.3

6.1

6.2

6.0

1993 Survey

32.5

37.3

27.7

35.4

41.2

29.7

8.4

9.5

6.9

U.S. Rate

61.7

70.0

54.1

66.3

77.3

58.5

6.9

7.2

6.6

Note: As of December of each year indicated. Not seasonally adjusted. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who were interviewed as a part of the survey for each year indicated. U.S. rates are from the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics.

 

Employment Rate (EPR)

 

Labor Force Participation Rate

Unemployment Rate

Year Survey Administered

All

Male

 

All

Male

Female

All

Male

Female

2005 Survey

58.0%

68.1%

 

64.7%

74.5%

55.4%

6.8%

6.3%

7.1%

U.S. Rate

62.7

69.6

 

66.0

73.3

59.3

5.1

5.1

5.1

2004 Survey

62.6

70.8

 

69.3

77.1

59.9

6.7

6.2

7.4

U.S. Rate

62.3

69.2

 

66.0

73.3

59.2

5.5

5.4

5.6

2003 Survey

55.2

64.0

 

61.0

69.1

51.8

5.7

5.1

6.4

U.S. Rate

62.3

68.9

 

65.7

72.8

59.2

6.0

6.3

5.7

2002 Survey

60.8

65.6

 

67.1

72.3

61.3

6.4

6.8

6.1

U.S. Rate

62.7

69.7

 

67.8

74.8

61.3

5.8

5.9

5.6

2001 Survey

62.0

67.7

 

66.6

72.7

60.5

6.9

6.9

7.0

U.S. Rate

63.7

70.9

 

67.6

74.9

60.9

4.7

4.8

4.7

2000 Survey

60.8

72.6

 

70.1

74.9

65.1

3.3

3.0

3.7

U.S. Rate

64.4

71.9

 

67.2

76.6

60.9

4.0

3.9

4.1

1999 Survey

66.8

72.3

 

68.9

74.4

63.3

3.1

2.8

3.5

U.S. Rate

64.3

71.6

 

67.1

76.7

60.7

4.2

4.1

4.3

1998 Survey

56.0

62.7

 

59.1

65.9

52.3

5.2

4.9

5.6

U.S. Rate

64.1

71.6

 

67.1

76.8

60.4

4.5

4.4

4.6

1997 Survey

53.9

62.9

 

58.3

67.1

49.5

7.5

6.3

9.0

U.S. Rate

63.8

71.3

 

67.1

77.0

60.5

4.9

4.9

5.0

1996 Survey

51.1

58.8

 

57.5

65.7

49.2

11.2

10.6

12.0

U.S. Rate

63.2

70.9

 

66.8

76.8

59.9

5.4

5.4

5.4

1995 Survey

42.3

49.5

 

49.8

57.4

42.1

15.1

14.0

16.6

U.S. Rate

62.9

70.8

 

66.6

76.7

59.4

5.6

5.6

5.6

1994 Survey

35.5

41.2

 

43.6

50.7

36.5

18.8

18.9

18.6

U.S. Rate

62.5

70.4

 

66.6

76.8

59.3

6.1

6.2

6.0

1993 Survey

32.5

37.3

 

35.4

41.2

29.7

8.4

9.5

6.9

U.S. Rate

61.7

70.0

 

66.3

77.3

58.5

6.9

7.2

6.6

Employment Rate of Refugees and U.S. Population: 1994-2005

Figure 1 . Employment Rate of Refugees and U.S. population: 1994 to 2005 (Figures for Refugees are for those in the survey sample in the years shown. Employment status is as of the week prior to the Survey.)

During this time, the overall U.S. participation rate was virtually unchanged (66 percent).

Nevertheless, as with the employment rate and independent of economic conditions, the labor force participation rate for refugees increases with time in the U.S. The labor force participation rate for the 2005 arrivals in this year’s survey was 68 percent, for example, but reached 72 percent for refugees who arrived in 2001 and 2003 (refer to Table II-2). This year’s survey again described significant differences in participation between men and women, with 20 point difference in participation (75 percent versus 55 percent). By way of contrast, the overall difference in participation rates for the U.S. was 14 points.

Table II-4 reveals significant differences between the employment rates of the six refugee country of origin groupings.11 The EPR for the six refugee groups ranged from a high of 75 percent for refugees from Eastern Europe to a low of 36 percent for refugees from Southeast Asia.

As in previous years, refugees from Eastern Europe continue to sustain the highest employment rate; refugees in this group recorded an employment rate of 75 percent, one point higher than last year. Both Africa and Latin America reported employment rates of 67 percent last year, but employment rates have since gone in the opposite directions, with Africa tumbling to 61 percent and Latin America rising to 71 percent. The employment rates of Soviet refugees remained the same at 48 percent for the both 2004 and 2005 surveys. The only group that reported a decline was the group from Southeast Asia, whose employment rate retreated 21 points between the 2004 survey (57 percent) and 2005 survey (36 percent). This could be due to the influx of Hmong refugees from Laos who are not as job-ready as previous refugee groups from Southeast Asia.

TABLE II-4 – Employment Status of Selected Refugee Groups by Sex: 2005 Refugee Survey

Employment Measure

Africa

Eastern Europe

Latin America

Middle East

S.E. Asia

Former Soviet Union

All

Employment Rate (EPR)

61.4%

75.2%

70.5%

46.3%

36.0%

47.5%

58.0%

-Males

75.5

82.4

77.6

53.8

39.9

61.3

68.1

-Females

46.8

67.5

63.8

39.9

32.1

35.2

48.3

Worked at any point since arrival

69.2

84.6

79.2

53.4

41.4

56.5

66.1

-Males

81.1

88.8

85.3

60.1

45.0

68.3

74.6

-Females

56.9

80.1

73.5

47.7

37.8

46.0

57.9

Labor Force

Participation Rate

68.8

78.3

77.0

53.0

39.8

56.5

64.7

-Males

81.6

85.5

82.8

61.9

46.1

70.1

74.5

-Females

55.7

70.5

71.7

45.5

33.5

44.5

55.4

Unemployment Rate

7.5

3.1

6.5

6.7

3.8

9.1

6.8

-Males

6.1

3.1

5.2

8.1

6.2

8.8

6.3

-Females

8.9

3.1

7.8

5.6

1.3

9.3

7.1

Note : As of October 2005. Not seasonally adjusted. Data refers to refugees 16 and over in the five-year sample population consisting of Amerasians, Entrants, and Refugees of all nationalities who arrived in the years 2000-2005.

The six refugee groups are derived from the following countries or regions:  Africa (Cameroon, Burundi, Djibouti, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Zaire), Eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia,  Macedonia, Serbia, and the former Yugoslavia), Latin America (Cuba, Haiti, Colombia and Ecuador), the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Libya), the former Soviet Union (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), and  Southeast Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam (including Amerasians).

The labor force participation rate (LPR) followed a similar pattern as the EPR. The labor force participation rate was high for Eastern Europe (78 percent), Latin America (77 percent), and Africa (69 percent). Southeast Asia (40 percent), the Middle East (53 percent), and the former Soviet Union (57 percent) reported far lower rates. The highest disparity between male and female participation rates was found for African families. Eighty-two percent of males, but only 56 percent of females were working or looking for work at the time of the survey, for a difference of 26 percent. The former Soviet Union (25 percent), the Middle East (17 percent), and Eastern Europe (15 percent) also had sizeable differences. For Latin American families, the participation rates, by contrast to the other groups, differed by only 11 percent.

Overall, the unemployment rate of refugees in the five-year population was slightly higher than the recorded rate for the U.S. as a whole (6.8 percent versus 5.1 percent). The rate for refugee males (6.3 percent) was marginally higher than the recorded rate for all males in the U.S. (5.1 percent), but the unemployment rate for refugee females (7.1 percent) was considerably higher than that of all U.S. females (5.1 percent).

In this year’s survey, the unemployment rate was highest for refugees from the former Soviet Union (9.1 percent) which reflects a significant increase from the previous year where the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent. The employment rate for former Soviet Union, however, remained at last year’s level. The unchanged employment rate coupled with the high unemployment rate reflects the sober reality that this group not only could not find work but lost the work they had in the previous year. It is interesting to note that the Southeast Asia recorded remarkably low employment (36 percent), labor participation (40 percent), and unemployment rates (about 3.8 percent). This unusual finding could be due to the fact that there were significant differences between the males and females in this group; for example, there was a 12 point difference (males at 46 percent, females at 34 percent) in labor force participation rate and a 5 point difference (males at 6 percent, females at 1.3 percent) in the unemployment rate. A low labor participation rate coupled with a low unemployment rate generally signals that some members of the group have been successful in finding employment, but others in the group have become discouraged and are no longer seeking employment.

For the U.S. population as a whole, the unemployment rate was 5.1 percent for both men and women. For refugees as a group, there was an overall unemployment rate of 6.8 percent, 7.1 percent for women and 6.2 percent for men in 2005. The biggest disparity between women and men within refugee groups is found in refugees from Southeast Asia, where the unemployment rate for women (1.3 percent) was almost five points lower compared to men (6.2 percent). In contrast, parity in unemployment rates between men and women refugees from the Eastern Europe was the case in 2005.


[7] Tables do not include refugees who arrived prior to FY 1983. However, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State, reports 805,644 arrivals for the period FY 1975 through FY 1982.

[8] Southeast Asian refugees are almost entirely represented by Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese.

[9] The Employment-to-Population Ratio (EPR), also called the employment rate, is the ratio of the number of individuals age 16 or over who are employed (full- or part-time) to the total number of individuals in the population who are age 16 or over, expressed as a percentage.

[10] The labor force consists of adults age 16 or over looking for work as well as those with jobs. The labor force participation rate is the ratio of the total number of persons in the labor force divided by the total number of persons in the population who are age 16 or over, expressed as a percentage.

[11] The six refugee groups are derived from the following countries or regions:  Africa (Cameroon, Burundi, Djibouti, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, and Zaire), Eastern Europe (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia,  Macedonia, Serbia, and the former Yugoslavia), Latin America (Cuba, Haiti, Colombia and Ecuador), the Middle East (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Libya), the former Soviet Union (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan), and  Southeast Asia (Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam (including Amerasians).