Immigrants face significant and complex challenges in achieving economic well-being. Legislation such as the PRWORA and IRCA currently limit immigrants’ access to employment, housing, and health services. The implementation of these restrictive policies is often fueled by misconceptions of the economic impact of immigrants in the greater society, especially the perception that undocumented immigrants place an economic burden on our health care system. Federal policies that facilitate more effective access to employment, housing, and healthcare and financial services are needed.
Healthcare and financial systems can improve the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services for immigrants. This can be supported by the diversification of professionals in these industries through the promotion of minority individuals in financial and medical careers, the promotion of interpretation services in healthcare facilities and financial institutions, and the recruitment and training of culturally sensitive staff.
Research is needed to more deeply understand the values, needs, and stressors in immigrant and refugee families as they transition to a new economic environment. Worry about supporting their families creates stress which can led to mental health issues. We need to understand the connections between financial worry and mental health in these families, and find ways to support them.
Research has shown financial education and interventions that are timely and relevant are the most effective. For immigrant and refugee families, what does that support entail and at what critical transition points is it best provided? For example, in refugee resettlement, the transition from reliance on initial government assistance to reliance on earned wages is a major shift. When would an intervention have the most impact and what support do they need at that time?
It is important to understand the strengths that immigrant and refugee families bring to these tasks, particularly the strategies they’ve learned over time that have helped them to survive in harsh living situations. We can build on those strengths and honor their root culture values from their root cultures as we create culturally-appropriate education and intervention programs.