Economic Refugee

DEFINITION of 'Economic Refugee'

An economic refugee is a person who leaves their home, in search of better job prospects and higher living standards. Economic refugees see little opportunity in their own countries to escape poverty and are willing to start over in a new country, for the chance at a better life. An example of an economic refugee would be a computer programmer who makes a minimal income in his or her home country and emigrates, to collect a substantially higher wage and improved standard of living.

BREAKING DOWN 'Economic Refugee'

Traditionally, a refugee is someone who is granted asylum in a foreign country because of life-threatening political or religious prosecution, in his or her home country. Since most countries have border controls and restrict who may enter, work and reside there, a person cannot simply move to the country of his or her choice but must either be granted permission by the government or try to enter and live in the country, without adversely coming into contact with the law. In the United States, the Refugee Act, which passed Congress in 1980, governs how refugees are admitted and screened.

A Case for Economic Refugees

  • Economic Benefit: A study using data from the U.S. census bureau’s American community survey found that between 1990 and 2014, the average refugee had paid $21,000 more in taxes than they had received in benefits from government assistance. The study also revealed that refugees who arrived before the age of 15 graduated high school and attended college at similar rates to US-born citizens. 

  • Humanitarian: Supporters of economic refugees argue that they should be granted asylum in developed countries on compassionate grounds. They believe that every human has the right to safe shelter, an education and employment opportunities. Learn more about how large companies provide job opportunities to economic refugees, see: Starbuck to Hire 10,000 Refugees in 75 Countries.

  • Diversity: Economic refugees may bring multiculturalism and diversity to their adopted country. They may introduce new foods and customs that enrich the existing culture. For example, an economic refugee may open a restaurant that features a traditional menu from his or her homeland.

A Case Against Economic Refugees

  • Employment: Critics of economic refugees argue that they may cause unemployment to rise and wages to decrease, particularly if they are highly skilled and seeking employment in a weak labor market. 

  • Lack of Assimilation: Economic refugees may not embrace the local customs and traditions of their adopted country. Lack of assimilation might lead to additional pressure on the social welfare system.

  • Increased Crime: Economic refugees who fail to find employment may be more likely to become involved in crime, such as drug trafficking and people smuggling.