One Day, One Community: The Refugee and Immigrant Communities of Central Ohio

By October 5, 2018Blog

If you had to leave your home at a moment’s notice what would you bring with you?

When you think about all of the things in your home–from the basic necessities like food, water, and clothing to your family photos, heirlooms, and other valuables—it can be hard to narrow it down to what you can carry. If you have small children, you may need to carry them as well. What if you didn’t have transportation? What if you couldn’t find shelter?

This was the situation for the many refugees who call the Northland community home.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as someone who is fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected by international law and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their lives and freedom are at risk.  There are 21.3 million registered refugees worldwide, while nearly 75 million people around the world are displaced, over 65 million of whom are forcibly displaced by violence.

How do refugees end up in Columbus?

Once refugees are approved for refugee status, they come to the U.S. through voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) that partner directly with the Department of State. In the last 10 years, over 25,000 refugees have been placed in the state of Ohio. VOLAGs have affiliate offices, like Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), US Together, and World Relief locally. Cases are allocated to affiliate offices based upon:

  • Reunification of family members;
  • The community’s capacity to work with certain ethnic groups (often based on language capacity);
  • Cost of living; and
  • Employment opportunities

Then what happens?

A refugee holds refugee status for a one-year period. After that period, they must adjust their status to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) and though they can retain LPR status as long as they would like, they are able to apply to become a U.S. citizen five years from the date of their entry into the U.S. (but only after they have gone through the LPR process).

What impact are refugees making in Central Ohio?

More than 16,000 refugees have resettled in the Central Ohio area since 1983, with most of them arriving within the last 10 years. Aside from contributing to population growth in general, the refugee community has a social and economic impact on the region.

Much of the Central Ohio refugee community is generally young and entrepreneurial. Successful businesses help refugees build social capital. The same entrepreneurship, self-sufficiency, networking, and job skills that form the collective social impact of refugees also contributes to their positive economic impact on the region. In fact, the local refugee community contributes an estimated $1.6 billion to the Columbus economy and supports over 21,000 jobs in the region.

For more information on the impact of refugees in Central Ohio, read the report generated by US Together and CRIS.

What other resources exist?

If you’re looking for services and information for and about immigrants and refugees in Central Ohio, the CRIS Websiteis a great place to start.

In addition, the Columbus Council on World Affairs develops The Global Report to tell the statistical story of where immigrants and refugees find work and community within Columbus.

Here are some of the most compelling facts:

  • 29 percent of the Columbus Metro Area’s population growth is attributed to international migration.
  • Local refugees are more than twice as likely to own a business than the general population.
  • Refugee resettlements in Central Ohio declined by more than half between 2016 (1,329) and 2017 (579).
  • 8 percent (155,793) of Columbus’ total population was born outside of the United States.
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