Op-ed: Syrian refugees offer economic boon to host countries

Syrian refugees in Lebanon study in tent. DFID

Analysis

The United States could be missing a big opportunity for economic growth if officials lock out Syrian refugees. The screening process that many say is inadequate, is, in fact, so good that it ensures that we get the cream of the crop.

The perception of the “huddled masses yearning to be free” runs counter to reality, which is that Syrian refugees are special cases. The individuals who make it out of Syria are unusual. They’re the brave ones. The ones who were smart enough and strong enough to survive a trip that was somewhere between hellish and apocalyptic. The ones who were resourceful enough to save, earn or borrow the money to pay for their painful, risky journey.

Everyone attempting to escape Syria is courageous – the kind of person who takes initiative. Those who actually succeed are not just courageous and resourceful but also very, very smart. Survivors, quite literally. The kind of people who can walk out of a war that destroyed their entire known world and keep on going.

And a substantial amount of research supports the positive impact that immigrants have on their new homes’ economies. All immigrants are good for the U.S. economy; refugees are no exception. Immigration has been found to increase the average wages of U.S.-born workers. It lessens crime in some urban areas. It is strongly linked to higher productivity. And new immigrants may well be the contributing factor that saves us from the demographic implosion of Social Security by ensuring we have a young labor force to support the older people drawing Social Security.

The arguments that refugees import radical Islam fail to take into account the fact that these are people who have seen firsthand the damage it does. They are knowledgeable, observant Muslims who understand the need for a secular government and would be profoundly grateful to the U.S. for saving them. They would be excellent additions to America’s Muslim communities.

The future of the U.S. is confusing and uncertain. Our nation faces threats that range from climate change to ISIS. No one seems to know how to restore American greatness. Smart, resourceful, citizens are our best hope as a nation. One way we ensure that hope is through education for our children. Another way is by encouraging the immigration of smart, resourceful people. Syrian refugees meet that description handily.

Concern has focused on the risk of terrorists sneaking in with real refugees. That’s Europe’s problem, not ours. In Europe, refugees can just walk across the border. In the U.S., refugees are screened and background checked in a lengthy, in-depth process. Extremely lengthy.

The governors carrying on about the risk of refugees are either wholly unaware of how their own government processes refugees or making political points at the expense of already-victimized war survivors.

And at the expense of their own states’ economic future.

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About Author

Alanna Shaikh

Alanna Shaikh is an international development professional based in Cairo, Egypt, who has run programs in East Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East (including four of the world’s most dangerous places). Shaikh also writes at the acclaimed blog Bloodandmilk.org