The New York Times reported last week that 10,000 Syrian refugees have been successfully placed within the United States. Many of the refugees were placed within the past three months. With their new legal status, the families will begin integrating into their communities, looking to connect with relatives already in the country, seeking employment and housing. Both businesses and landlords will need to understand how to help someone who is settling into the country, with previous employment or education records possibly destroyed by war. Will you be prepared?
What does your HR department need to know in order to hire immigrants? Is your property management company prepared to offer residence to refugees?
Refugees in Crisis
The topic of refugees and immigration has been part of the political discussion for the past few years, however, this isn't the first time the United States has taken in large numbers of refugees. In fact, the same New York Times article reported that the U.S had previously taken in over 300,000 Vietnamese refugees over the course of two years (1979-80). During this same time, 120,000 Cubans sought and were granted refuge in the U.S, including 80,000 in a single month. In order to ease integration into the country, Syrian refugees were placed in areas where there was already an existing Syrian immigrant population. If the families were placed somewhere they didn't have relatives or an existing Syrian population, the goal was to seek communities with low-cost housing and plenty of jobs.
Background Checks for Refugees Prior to Arrival
It has taken nearly two years for refugees to be placed within the country due to the already extensive screening and security checks required by the United Nations and the United States. This New York Times article and this White House infographic have detailed the process:
- Registration with the United Nations.
- United Nations interview.
- Refugee granted status with the United Nations.
- Referral for resettlement in the United States - The U.N. only grants referral to the most vulnerable of applicants (less than 1%).
- State Department interview.
- Initial background check.
- Higher level background check for certain applicants - The screening includes a check of law enforcement and intelligence databases for terrorist or criminal activity. Some will go through even more detailed screens.
- Yet another background check - For any applicants between the ages of 14 - 65, another screening is processed.
- Fingerprinting and photo.
- Second fingerprinting.
- Third fingerprinting - Refugee fingerprints are searched for matches or previous immigration attempts against the FBI and Homeland Security databases as well as U.S. Embassy and Defense department databases.
- Case review at U.S. Immigration.
- Case additionally reviewed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services Syrian refugee specialist. Cases marked with "national security indicators" are also sent for further fraud review by the Homeland Security Department.
- Interview, in person, with Homeland Security officer.
- Homeland Security required approval before moving forward.
- Contagious disease screening.
- Cultural orientation classes.
- Refugee is matched with a resettlement agency in the United States.
- Before leaving the country, refugees must face another security check among multiple agencies that have previously screened them.
- Security check when entering the country at a U.S. airport.
Refugee Tenant and Employment Screening
When a refugee applies for employment or housing, landlords and hiring managers may want to screen as they would any other applicant. However, refugees will not have the same history as existing American applicants. Consider the following:
Housing - Landlords and property managers may opt to work with resettlement agencies to help house refugees. Because refugees are already screened (as above), resettlement agencies will seek property owners who will offer housing without a credit check or other screening. Refugees are offered an initial stipend to cover housing for one month so many landlords are asked to waive a security deposit. With refugees looking for a sense of normalcy, they are typically the ideal tenants, paying rent on time and staying in the same location for a very long time.
Refugees will initially not have social security cards, credit history or rental history. Landlords should still ask for documentation such as legal status (an I-94 card with an asylum approval stamp or refugee admission), reliable income (including cash assistance from resettlement agencies), and case managers (including interpreters) who can offer help with landlord-tenant challenges.
Employment- Refugees fled their home country due to war and terrorism but they may be well-educated and were previously professionals or business owners. Language and cultural barriers may leave employers concerned with hiring refugees and the process of screening. In fact, businesses who hire refugees may be eligible to receive tax breaks. With a strong work ethic and desire for self-sufficiency, refugees can be very loyal and hard-working employees.
Refugees are already fully authorized to work in the United States. They will have been issued a Employment Authorization Document (EAD, Form I-766) and an unrestricted social security card (within one month of arrival). Employers can still verify documentation, including legal status and right to work, and work with case managers (and interpreters) who can assist with proper placement. Employers should use an electronic I-9 form, also called E-Verify, to determine workforce eligibility if the EAD is expired only. Fair labor practices also asks that employers wait to use E-Verify until the employee receives their social security number.
See also: E-Verify Requirements in Every State
The upcoming election in November may affect how and if more refugees are allowed in the United States. With immigration and military action as major political topics, employers and property managers are wise to stay abreast of any changes in regulation related to placing refugees. As immigrant families look to integrate into communities that are safe from the horrors of their home country, housing and employment will allow them to gain self-sufficiency once again.