The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a severe human and economic impact worldwide; with an expected cost the US  $8 trillion through 2030 and  it is estimated that the US death toll will rise to 165,000 total reported deaths by August 15, 2020.  Similarly, it will not only affect immigrant and refugee populations from a health perspective, but also will have an economic and migratory impact on these populations.  

Economic Impact

 The COVID-19 pandemic and the stay at home measures that have been implemented have taken a toll on the U.S. economy. While these measures have mitigated the spread of COVID-19 they have affected the refugee and immigrant population economic security. Certain industries that employ immigrants at higher rates are expected to be impacted more than others. Around 6 million immigrants work in the domestic household services and food services; this equates to 20% of the total workforce in these industries which are expected to be strongly impacted by the pandemic.

 With immigrants and refugees largely excluded from federal relief programs like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act, extreme poverty is expected to extend to more than 5 million US-born children with undocumented-immigrant parents. Being excluded from federal aid will also affect the families of immigrants and refugees in their home countries. Remittances to low- and middle-income countries are expected to decrease around 20% this year. Consequently, this decrease will have a negative impact on immigrants’ and refugees’ home countries’ GDP which significantly depend on remittances. 


 The U.S. immigration and legalization process have been affected by the pandemic in the past months. From March 18th to June 4th embassies, consulates, and USCIS offices closed which caused a halt in all immigration processes worldwide. Currently there’s an estimated 10-month increase in processing time for citizenship applications. This has resulted in a backlog of naturalization and other immigration filings that has affected over 100,000 applicants. Consequently, many immigrants and refugees will have to reschedule their immigration appointments and many of these individuals will be ineligible to vote in the upcoming election on November 3rd, 2020 due to the delay.

With many businesses temporarily or permanently closing due to stay at home orders, over 200,000 immigrants are at risk of losing their H1-B visa status due to unemployment. Many of these individuals are expected to encounter economic and logistic difficulties returning to their home countries if their legal status was to change suddenly.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers and Refugee camps are at great risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. Two COVID-19 related deaths have been reported in ICE detention centers and some centers have reported high incidences of cases in detainees. Over 9,000 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials have been sidelined from duty for testing positive or having been exposed to the virus.

This is the second installment of a 3 part series examining the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our immigrant and refugee communities. You can read the first part here.
Written by [Refugees Welcome!] research fellow, Diego Erdmenger Cazali .Diego works with [RW!] on the Research Team. He is currently pursuing both an MBA and a Master’s in Public Health through Boston University’s dual degree program.

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