During the UN General Assembly held on Sept 19, 2017, President Trump during his address to the state that “For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region.”

The president presented this statistic to argue that it was better to resettle refugees in places close to their homes rather than have them resettle in other countries. He categorically stated the number “10” as in what will be adequate to take care of 10 refugees overseas is equivalent to what is spent on a single refugee in the US.

How did he arrive at this figure? And is the calculation valid?

The Facts

The White House stated that the president got his figures from a report titled “The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees” by the Center for Immigration Studies. This report was published in 2015 and was done by this organization in favor of lower tax immigration levels. The report states that each refugee costs the US over 12 times the UN estimate or in other words, in just five years, each refugee takes up about $64,370 of taxpayers money. The report estimated that about $12,874 is spent on each refugee on a yearly basis.

Different statistics were considered by this organization before coming up with the report; some of which were how refugees made use of Temporary Assistance for Needy families (TANT), Food stamps, Medicaid, etc. and about 25% of the money spent on education. The report also stated that something was charged as taxes on these refugees, but also stated that the data was sparse over a five-year period and as such, could not really be considered as actual revenue.

The research was an extensive one; however, reports done by groups with a particular agenda must be handled with care and objectively read. Some might say it is shocking that even up till this moment, the president would rather use reports by an external group than one done by government experts.

Apparently, a 52-page report was drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services in July and this report attempted to assess the cost of refugee in response to the March presidential directive to the State Department and other agencies to tally the financial implication of assisting one refugee in the United States. An extensive and comprehensive report was drafted, with a review of the literature on the subject that included an assessment of the CIS report. The uncertainties in the estimates and the shortcomings of the report is something that the HHS report was open about.

However, as reported by the New York Times, the report was killed by the White House for attempting to tally costs and benefits

The squashed report was later published in The Times at a later date, and in the report, the HHS looked at the costs of helping a refugee for a decade. Not just Middle Eastern refugees now, but refugees from all over the world and came up with $7,134 as the average amount spent on a refugee yearly. A little over 50% of the initial estimate made by CIS.

The HHS even went further to estimate the figure collected as tax from the refugees, including payroll taxes, sales tax, property tax and so on and the agency estimated that it sums up to about $63 billion over ten years. If this is to be believed, it simply means that the taxes paid by refugees, in the long run, exceeds whatever it costs to take care of them at the initial stage.

This was not accepted by the White House, and the agency was asked to create a 3-page report and submit to the State Department and is currently working on the refugee cost memo for Trump and considers only the costs. It also stated $3,346 was the annual per capita expenditure per refugee opposed to the $2,501 that was initially reported. Some are interested in having these refugee figures compared against that of low-income earning Americans.

Wondering why the figures presented by the HHS are so different from that of the CIS? The answer is simple.

They looked at different things. HHS considered every refugee as opposed to the CIS that looked at only the statistics of only the poor and the less educated population of the Middle Eastern refugees. CIS based its report on a 5-year period when the resettlement costs are a lot higher whereas the HHS focused on 10.

The National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper in June where it estimated that the break-even point between cost and benefit of taking in refugees was around eight years. This implies that on the average, after eight years that the US take in a refugee, the refugee would be of net benefit to the US taxpayers.