The Massive Cost of Obama’s 10K Syrian Refugees

Initial price tag for migrant expansion in the hundreds of millions of dollars

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 30 Aug 2016 at 7:58 AM

President Obama on Monday reached his goal of resettling an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States — but the costs to American taxpayers are just beginning.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice made the announcement Monday that the 10,000th refugee would arrive in the afternoon. Critics have primarily focused on security concerns raised by the prospect of admitting refugees from war-torn Syria when U.S. national security officials have said they cannot guarantee terrorists will not slip into the refugee stream.

“It’s accurate to say this is a population with an average of 10th-grade, a ninth-grade education. They’re going to be very heavy users of these [assistance] programs.”

But equally troubling, perhaps, should be the cost that refugees will impose on taxpayers. In addition to the upfront costs of transporting the refugees and setting them up in communities across the country, they — unlike other immigrants — can immediately receive a full range of social welfare benefits from the federal government.

Robert Rector, a scholar at The Heritage Foundation, has estimated that the total net cost of resettling a single refugee from the Middle East is about $130,000 a year, or $130 million a year for the 10,000 who have entered since the start of the current fiscal year in October.

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That is in line with an analysis last year by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based think tank that used data on Middle Eastern refugees from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to estimate the average per-person cost over five years is $64,370 — for a total of $643.7 million for the 10,000 Syrians who came this fiscal year. And that figure is likely to be nearly the same for the next 10,000 Syrians who would come to the United States next year, as Obama has pledged.

"I think it's accurate to say that this is a population with an average of 10th-grade, a ninth-grade education," said Steven Camarota, director of research for the organization. "They're going to be very heavy users of these programs."

And the costs could be even higher, because Camarota's report did not attempt to estimate the costs borne by taxpayers for children that the refugees might have. Using birth rates of Middle Eastern Muslims as a baseline, Camarota made a back-of-the-envelop guess that as many as 1,200 children might be born to refugees during their first five years in the United States. All would be U.S. citizens at birth and would qualify for any government-assistance program as long as their family income was low enough to meet eligibility restrictions.

"That would, of course, add to the cost," Camarota said.

The most recent report to Congress from the Office of Refugee Resettlement found that refugees even five years after arriving were significantly more likely to be unemployed than the U.S. population as a whole. Only 55 percent of all refugees who had been in the United States for five years reported speaking English "well" or "very well."

Welfare usage rates mainly declined over time, with the exception of Supplemental Security Income, which at 29.6 percent was the highest after five years. Even at lower rates, use of certain other programs was high after five years. For instance, 44.2 percent of the refugees in that group received Medicaid or Refugee Medical Assistance, and 60.2 percent received food stamps.

Camarota said that, using estimates from the United Nations, the United States could help 12 times as many Syrian refugees in neighboring countries for the cost of relocating the 10,000 who have come so far under Obama's expanded program.

"You're looking at a population that is going to struggle for years, and the cost is going to run into the hundreds of millions," he said. "The question that comes up is: Was this the most effective way to help people?"

  1. Center for Immigration Studies
  2. immigration
  3. refugees
  4. Syrian refugees
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