Barriers and Facilitators of Refugees' Economic Integration in Western New York (WNY)

The Westside Bazaar, home to many refugee businesses.

Undergraduate research assistants will have the opportunity to work on quantitative or qualitative components of ongoing study, gaining valuable research skills while working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Project description

Refugees are economically vulnerable, even in comparison with other foreign-born populations. While many immigrants enter the U.S. after preparing for their migration by studying English and gathering needed credentials for employment, refugees are forced to move with little or no preparation (Adserà & Pytliková, 2016). Refugees tend to have poor English proficiency and may be placed in geographic locations with weak ethnic communities (Chiswick & Lee, 2006). Refugees with poor English proficiency rarely receive needed employment services and training (Shutes, 2011).

Despite these challenges faced by refugees, the US resettlement policy sets rapid economic self-sufficiency as its main goal: Refugees are urged to get a job immediately after their arrival and discouraged from making a long-term investment for economic success (United States Government Accountability Office, 2011). Accordingly, it is imperative to investigate how refugees adjust themselves in the labor market under the current policy environments. 

To fill the gap in our current knowledge, this mixed-method project examines refugees’ economic integration in Western New York in collaboration with Journey’s End Refugee Services, a local refugee resettlement agency. The goals of this project are help policy makers and resettlement agencies develop and implement policies and programs to promote refugees’ economic success by identifying barriers and facilitators of refugees’ economic integration. 

First, the qualitative component of this project will interview 30-40 refugees (both genders, both employed and unemployed) to learn their economic experience before and after they moved into the United States. The research team will conduct face-to-face in-depth interviews with refugees who can speak one of the following three languages: Arabic, Burmese, and English. Interviewees will be recruited in collaboration with Journey’s End Refugee Services. 

Undergraduate research assistants will learn how to conduct a qualitative study while assisting the research team in preparing for interviews, transcribing and organizing interview data, and analyzing interview data. In addition, undergraduate assistants will have opportunity to learn how to work with people with cultural backgrounds different from theirs. Research assistants may become co-authors of academic papers if they make substantive contribution to the project. 

Second, the quantitative component of this project uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) data to investigate the relationship between language isolation and refugees’ employment and labor market outcomes. Undergraduate research assistants will assist the research team with data work, library research, and writing academic papers. Undergraduate research assistants will learn various quantitative study skills including data management and statistical software skills.

Undergraduate research assistants can work on only one component of study (either qualitative or quantitative) or both components depending on his/her interests.

Project outcome

The specific outcomes of this project will be identified by the faculty mentor at the beginning of your collaboration. 

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Variable
Start time Fall, Spring, Summer
Level of collaboration Variable
Benefits Academic Credit, Volunteer
Who is eligible Ability to work independently and responsibly, Respect to different cultures, Willing to learn new skills
Support Funding is available after the completion of the preparation badge. See below.
Truman and Fulbright Scholarships

Students participating in this project might be interested in and eligible for the Truman Scholarship and the Fulbright Scholarship. Connect with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships to learn more.

Project mentor

Yunju Nam

Associate Professor

Social Work

658 Baldy Hall

Phone: (716) 645-1255



To engage with this project, you will work through a series of Project-Based Collaboration digital badges to guide your experience. 

To get started, contact the project mentor using the contact information above to discuss availability and after you’ve received approval, you can start the Project Preparation Digital Badge. Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor

Preparation guidance

The specific preparation activities for this project are being finalized by the project mentor. Once they are finalized, this section will be updated. In the meantime, please reach out to the project mentor to confirm what specific preparation activities you should complete for the Project Preparation Digital Badge.