WASHINGTON - Within six years of arriving in Boise, Idaho, Iraqi refugee Salam Bunyan - forced from his Baghdad home for working alongside the U.S. military - realized his version of the American dream by opening a restaurant.
It was the culmination of 17 years of culinary experience in Iraq, a Jordanian refugee camp, and Boise. He named the Middle Eastern restaurant the Goodness Land.
"Business is very good," Bunyan said of the restaurant's success over the last year. "I have big support in the community."
Bunyan's story is emblematic of the give-and-take many seeking asylum in the United States experience. Though the safety and financial support provided by their new home grants refugees the opportunity to build new lives, the communities in which they resettled often reap the economic benefits that come with an expanded tax base, supplemented workforce and greater diversity of businesses - like The Goodness Land.
"Refugees over time tend to contribute to growth and economic vitality in any community, and we certainly feel that in Boise," said Patty Haller, assistant director of the Idaho Office for Refugees. "Most Boiseans see refugees in our community as a very positive influence."
As the national debate over admitting Syrian refugees continues, many economists and refugee advocates across the nation fear that public officials are missing a point: Although refugees require a minimal amount of cash assistance to get them on their feet, their rapid integration into the workplace and atypical upward mobility have been shown to boost economic growth and employment rates for the nations that offer them legal residence - the United States among them.
"Even though initially they get public support, in most cases they lose that and rely quickly on work," said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute. "It's a strength of the U.S. system and of the economy."
Through rapid integration into the workforce, refugees began contributing to the economy faster than any other class of immigrant. Eighty percent of refugees find jobs in their first few months in the country, said Noah Gottschalk, senior policy adviser for Oxfam.
That is mostly thanks to the refugee resettlement agencies handling their cases, which make it a point to find each new arrival employment within 90 days.
"Because of their assistance in that process, they're very quickly able to become productive members of society contributing back into the economy," Gottschalk said.
The paychecks earned in their first months of employment mean they pay taxes, contributing back to the tax base that helped get them on their feet.
The economic benefits aren't just at the federal level, either.
Once refugees are employed, they are able to pay rent, buy groceries, and otherwise are consumers in the communities that have welcomed them. That provides an often much-needed boost to local economies, something cities across the nation are coming to appreciate.