Refugees in Vermont: Resettlement in a Non-Traditional Destination

This study is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Award#1359895)

Refugees are designated by the U.S. Federal government as immigrants who have been allowed to enter the U.S. to escape dangerous conditions in their countries of origin. Recent years have witnessed the movement of refugees to locales different from “gateway” cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco where they traditionally settled. This project will investigate the resettlement experience of refugees in small cities in the US, beginning in New England and eventually expanding the study to other sites in the South, Midwest, and Northwest. This project will build on the work of other social scientists who have studied the effects of such settlement patterns — what the economic impacts might be, how refugees are adjusting to new lives, how their children are doing in school, and how their new homes are adjusting to unfamiliar faces. Many of these new destinations do not have long histories of integrating newcomers into their midst, making it important to ask what kinds of impacts are being felt in local schools, industries, and social services because of this influx. These are important questions not only for researchers, but also for urban planners and civic leaders, for policymakers, and for residents in these communities. Because the project is being conducted in concert with community organizations, including mutual aid associations, resettlement agencies, and local social service providers, researchers will generate useful information and insights regarding why refugees are being placed in small cities without large existing immigrant populations, what the refugees’ experience of settlement has been, and if and how their new communities are being transformed by their arrival. The project will result in a model with tools and data to assist scholars, policymakers, service providers, community leaders and refugees understand and improve the resettlement experience in new destinations throughout the U.S.

This project investigates resettlement processes in three stages. First, researchers will conduct interviews with the decision makers who send refugees to their initial resettlement destinations and with the local leaders who are in charge of helping the newcomers adjust to their arrival. Second, the project will survey a number of recent refugees regarding their experiences on two occasions — shortly after they first arrive they will be asked about their expectations for their new life, and one year later the same group will be asked questions about their actual experiences. These surveys will examine a range of important aspects of refugee and immigrant life including education, employment, healthcare, housing, social integration, and transportation. Finally, researchers will conduct a series of workshops on perceptions of landscape change, some with recently arrived refugees and others with long-term residents of the neighborhoods into which they have been placed. These workshops will draw on important tools in geographic research including mental and sketch mapping, photography, and qualitative GIS. Together these various forms of inquiry will help to develop a model for incorporating data-driven local knowledge on resettlement — from both refugees and the communities where they live — into regional and national planning on refugee placement and reception. Incorporating such local knowledge into policymaking has the potential for creating better outcomes in refugee resettlement across the country.