Panel Paper: New Minorities: Syrian Refugee Incorporation and the Production of Human Capital in the US, Canada and Germany

Friday, November 9, 2018
Marriott Balcony A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Heba Gowayed, Princeton University

Drawing on cross-national qualitative research on Syrian refugees resettled or granted asylum in three countries—the United States, Canada and Germany—I examine how incorporation systems, derived from national social service systems, shape the ability of refugees to build and use their human capital in the labor market. I argue that the United States, Canada, and Germany have incorporation strategies that I call “self-sufficiency,” “integration,” and “credentialization” respectively, and that offer least to most support (in services and cash) to newly arrived refugees in that order. The United States pushes refugees to enter the labor-market within the first six months of their arrival, curbing their ability to gain language or other relevant labor market skills, resulting in their entry into the lower rungs of the labor market. By contrast, the German system provides long durations of cash support, but requires that refugees earn formal credentials in order to join the labor market, a process than can take 5 years, and that does not recognize refugees’ preexisting skills or capabilities. The Canadian case, by contrast, offers almost as much cash support as Germany, and language services, which enable refugees to gain relevant labor-market skills. However, the Canadian system also allows labor-market entry. These cases show the importance of investing in newly arrived refugees, but also of recognizing their preexisting skills. Given that the refugee diaspora places similar people across different states, this paper reflects on the broader question of how social service systems produce new minorities.

This paper draws on ethnographic observations with 18 families (n=81) in Connecticut conducted over two years (October 2015-2017) in which I interpreted for the families in formal interactions with healthcare providers, employers, resettlement agency workers and Department of Social Service (DSS) employees, and in which I also attended informal gatherings like dinner parties or casual tea. Recognizing the importance of the policy context to these families in the United States, I conducted longitudinal interviews with five families in Ontario, Canada visiting every 6 months over a span of two years (February 2016-February 2018). I also joined a team at York University to help conduct and analyze focus group discussions with respondents in Ontario (4 groups of women and four groups of men) who had been resettled for two years. In Germany, I conducted interviews with five families in the Baden-Wurttemberg and Westfalen regions in June 2017. I also conducted interviews with policy makers and agency workers in each context.