The new Americans : factors affecting economic integration among African refugees in New Hampshire

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Southern New Hampshire University
Since 1983, 6000 refugees have resettled in New Hampshire from countries around the world, under the auspices of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. About 1300 (22%) of these came from African countries, 95% of them since the year 2000. Secondary migration (from within America) has increased the number of African refugees in New Hampshire to an estimated 2500. Their presence in New Hampshire raises the need for their economic, social, cultural, and political integration; economic integration is of particular importance because it facilitates access to the social, cultural and political spheres of society. The study utilizes mixed methods data to address human capital, situational dispositional theoretic elements on the factors affecting labor market activities, as well as current and potential microentrepreneurial activities among the African refugees in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire state government and Lutheran Social Services supplied the secondary data for the study, complemented by primary data from a researcher-administered survey of 110 cases, phenomenological interviews with 44 African refugees, and triangulation of these with six community-based resource persons who work with African refugees. Key findings include varying degrees of a statistical association between human capital and situational indicators (such as gender, age, education, country of origin, and length of stay in the USA) and the participants’ wage income; a downward occupational mobility for refugees with educational or professional qualifications; systemic barriers to the transfer, recognition, retraining, credentialing and licensing of occupational skills that the refugees bring from their countries of origin; illiteracy and lack of English language proficiency; cultural disconnectedness and lack of familiarity with the American workplace etiquette; and creative uses of the welfare state by refugees as coping strategies in combination with wage income or informal microentrepreneurial activities. Due to combined effects of these factors, 24% of the study participants are unemployed, while those employed concentrate in unskilled, entry-level jobs in the manufacturing sector, which places them among the so-called working poor in America. The study discusses these findings relative to other immigrant groups, and recommends policies, programs and self-help interventions for promoting economic integration among the refugees. (Author abstract)