Syrian Refugee Employment: Facts and Characteristics

syrianwelcomeLearn several insights about some of the expectations and cultural differences we will need to consider when helping Syrians successfully enter the U.S. workforce. Syrians are as diverse as any client population we resettle, so these are only general observations and trends.

The information is summarized from expert presentations heard last week in Detroit, Michigan from a resettlement agency’s statistics and experience resettling 18 Syrian families, the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and the Director of a program that works with refugees in Egypt, including Syrians.

First, a few statistics about the 2,290 Syrians resettled in the U.S. since 2011.

  • More than half (1,680) were resettled in the past fiscal year.
  • 59% are families (with at least one adult and at least one child).
  • 54% are under the age of 18. 1% are over the age of 65.
  • Less than 3% are single women-led households and less than 2% are single men not part of a family.
  • Less than 4% are Christians*

*Only 10% of all Syrians are Christian. Many live in relatively stable areas of the country and have chosen to remain. A significant number of those who did flee are in Lebanon, where the U.S. is not currently able to process refugees for resettlement in the U.S.

  1. Expectations and Technical Skills. Syrians have high expectations that they will be able to work in jobs that use their skills and training. Many bring experience and training in agriculture or skilled trades like construction, plumbing or electricity. We might find fewer professional certifications or advanced degrees than with other recent Middle Eastern populations we’ve resettled.
  1. Lifestyles and Quality of Life. Syrian heads of household are motivated to accept early employment so they can provide their families with a similar lifestyle to the one they were forced to leave behind. Across rural/urban settings as well as class and economic status, Syrians enjoyed a relatively high quality of life.
  1. Traditional Roles for Women. In general, women are not expected or accustomed to working outside of the home. The ability for them to play the role of homemaker is related to cultural values and perceptions of a high quality of life. Their educational attainment is likely to be less (middle school) than that of men (high school).
  1. English and Driving. Syrians are very aware of the importance of English language skills and the ability to drive for achieving the quality of life and success they want. They are motivated to learn these skills, which are not as common upon arrival as we might have expected.


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