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

Two women enjoying the World Refugee Day in Western NY event, summer 2019.

Support the refugee community through research while gaining research methodology skills along the way.

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

Producing journal articles, conference presentations, and/or community presentations.

Project details

Timing, eligibility and other details
Length of commitment Year-long (10-12 months)
Start time Any time
Level of collaboration Small group project (2-3 students)
Benefits Academic credit
Who is eligible All undergraduate students

Core partners

  • Journey's End Refugee Services
  • Partnership for Public Goods

Project mentor

Yunju Nam

Associate Professor

Social Work

658 Baldy Hall

Phone: (716) 645-1255


Start the project

  1. Email the project mentor using the contact information above to express your interest and get approval to work on the project. (Here are helpful tips on how to contact a project mentor.)
  2. After you receive approval from the mentor to start this project, click the button to start the digital badge. (Learn more about ELN's digital badge options.) 

Preparation activities

Once you begin the digital badge series, you will have access to all the necessary activities and instructions. Your mentor has indicated they would like you to also complete the specific preparation activities below. Please reference this when you get to Step 2 of the Preparation Phase. 

  • Reading seminal articles or books identified by you and the project mentor. 
  • Completing CITI trainings to learn research ethics.