Our initial research

Since we have been unable to get all the facts directly from the various refugee resettlement agencies and non-government organizations, we wrote this intial fact sheet to help local citizens and elected officials understand the mechanisms involved in our county. This will be Vol. 1 No. 1 since we anticipate adding new information or correcting information as we receive it.

We welcome your input!

Refugee Resettlement

Fact sheet

June 25, 2007

Volume 1, No. 1



  • The United Nations and the U.S. State Dept. work together to identify potential refugee populations worldwide. The President and Congress set a limit on the number to be admitted to the US each year. The cap at this time is 70,000 but approximately 53,000 have been admitted.
  • Refugee Resettlement programs are authorized under several federal laws including Refugee Act of 1980.
  • Ten (sometimes 11) major voluntary non-government agencies (Volags) carry out the function of resettling the refugees throughout the US. In total there are some 400 Volags and organizations with loose affiliations to Volags which have State Department contracts relating to refugee resettlement.
  • Earlier refugee resettlement was primarily carried out in the so-called gateway cities such as New York and Los Angeles. The Clinton Administration issued a directive that required refugees to be distributed to every state in the US. However, some states, notably West Virginia, Delaware, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Arkansas get only a handful of refugees. * Charts for distribution of refugees by state are available.
  • Funding for resettlement is distributed through grants and contracts from the U.S. State Dept., Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to the Volags. Each of the major Volags subcontracts to others. The cost to the Federal government (taxpayers) for Refugee resettlement in FY 2005 was $676 million. Projected costs for 2006 were $815 million (latest figures that I could obtain). That does not include welfare received by the refugees.The cost of on-going welfare for refugees dwarfs the annual bill for the resettlement program.
  • Church World Services (CWS) received $24 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006 from the U.S. government (26% of its annual budget). It passed down $813,000 to Virginia Council of Churches (VCC) to carry out its resettlement work. According to Richard Cline, VCC receives approx. 90 % of its budget from government sources of funding. CWS has 28 subcontractors in 2007. * Annual budgets for CWS and VCC are available.
  • The Volags receive $2000 for each refugee (including children) under an ORR program called Matching Grants. The Volag must provide $200 in cash of its own and $800 worth of items like used clothing, furniture and cars, and they then receive $2000 cash from the government. So, numbers matter to the Volags and competition for refugees is stiff. And, that is not the only source of taxpayer money for the Volags.
  • Refugees get an interest-free loan for air travel to the US provided by the federal government that is not regularly repaid. As of 2002, about 43 percent of all such loans were unpaid, leaving a balance due the government of $436.5 million. *Report is available.

Volags are given 25% of any travel loans they can collect from the refugees.

  • Volags bring refugees to communities they believe are “welcoming” and have jobs and low income housing, but do not thoroughly inform communities before hand of the planned resettlement. I believe the Volags have carved up the country in some way and actually have exclusive territories. It is a competitive business.
  • For the first 30 days the refugees are funded with an $850 per family gift from the State Department. At 30 days they are eligible for all forms of welfare. Listed below:

Federal “Means-Tested” Public benefits available to refugees and successful asylees include:
> > Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) formerly known as AFDC

> > Medicaid

> > Food Stamps

> > Public Housing

> > Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

> > Social Security Disability Insurance

> > Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) (direct services only)

> > Child Care and Development Fund

> > Independent Living Program

> > Job Opportunities for Low Income Individuals (JOLI)

> > Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

> > Post secondary Education Loans and Grants

> > Refugee Assistance Programs

> > Title IV Foster Care and Adoption Assistance Payments (if parents are “qualified immigrants”)

> > Title XX Social Services Block Grant Funds

  • Prior to 1980, refugee sponsoring agencies were totally responsible for all refugee needs, including housing, medical care and employment. Today they have virtually no responsibilities. A newly arriving refugee aged 65 can immediately retire on SSI/Medicaid never having worked a day in the U.S.
  • After 4 months the Volags do not even have to know where the refugees are located. Therefore they have no legal requirements to make sure the refugees are o.k. and are assimilating. One very interesting statistic I noted was that a few refugees actually return to their country of origin which brings up the question of how persecuted were they in the first place. In Washington Co. an Iraqi family left the area soon after arrival telling people the conditions were deplorable.
  • One area of change suggested by those advocating reform of refugee resettlement is to require Volags to identify sponsoring churches and organizations for each family and to be responsible for the family for a year before accessing welfare programs. Although not a legal contract requirement, VCC did not identify enough sponsors for refugees in Washington Co. and therefore many refugees were not adequately supported causing some of the political friction. Recently VCC stated that existing refugee families could sponsor new families which would not be a desirable solution.
  • The National Governor’s Assn. was critical of the program in its Policy Position on Refugee Resettlement on March 5, 2007. They are concerned about the lack of consultation by the Volags in placement of refugees and they are concerned about the cost of refugee resettlement (a Federal responsibility) being passed down to state and local governments. * This report is available.
  • It is often difficult to get accurate information from Volags about the numbers of refugees resettled in a community. VCC has stated publicly that they have resettled over 200 refugees in Washington Co. from Africa and Russia. In fact, the State Department places the number at 168 from 13 different countries. Of the 168, 125 are Muslim. Nationally about 50% of refugees brought to the US are Muslim. There are no Muslim Volags, most are various Christian faiths and one Jewish organization. * List of the major Volags is available.
  • Employment statistics vary from location to location, but in ORR’s 2004 Report to Congress only 16% of refugees find a job in the first 3 months and at 12 months only 62% nationally have a job. The average hourly wage in a 5 year population sample was $8.90. *This report is available.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for determining whether refugees pose any danger to the safety and security of the US, but this authority can be waived by the US State Department. For example, on May 5, 2006 Sec. of State Rice gave approval for the Burmese (Karen) people of the Tham Hin Camp in Thailand to enter the US even though some may be members of (or have given support to) the Karen National Liberation Army, considered a terrorist group by the US govt. Burmese (Karen) comprise the next group of refugees VCC would like to resettle in Washington Co. *Waiver is available.
  • Some states have another layer of bureaucracy, a kind of go-between office, that helps to facilitate Refugee Resettlement between the Volags and the Federal government. In Maryland, it is the Maryland Office for New Americans (MONA). Although listed as part of Maryland’s Department of Human Services it is funded primarily by grants from the Federal Government.
  • The cost of translation for such things as medical care, emergency response etc. is according to federal law the responsibility of the local government agency. In Washington Co., VCC says they are working with seven languages at the present time.
  • I have found no location where a Volag does any formal written reporting about their plans in advance of bringing refugees to a community, or any report to local governments during the program.
  • Other cities are having problems with Refugee Resettlement. Manchester, NH shut the program down completely after they had to build a wing on to the high school exclusively for English as a Second language students and had a problem with many refugee children having lead poisoning. Lewiston, ME tried to stop the influx of Somali Bantu but failed. Eastern Tennessee is having problems. Cayce, SC is the only town I have found so far that stopped Refugee Resettlement in advance.

Contact information:

Asst. Sec. of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Ellen R. Sauerbrey,


Domestic Resettlement Section Chief, PRM, Dept. of State, Barbara Day, 202-663-1052

Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Assoc. Director Joshua Trent, 202-401-4556

Maryland Office for New Americans, Ed Linn or Martin Ford, 410-767-7192

Church World Services, Rev. Joseph Roberson, 212-870-2178

Virginia Council of Churches, Richard Cline, 804-321-3305