Common Myths and Startling Facts - Syrian Refugees in the US


Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees

Common Myths & Startling Facts

Syrian Refugees in the U.S.

Myth:   Syrian refugees are welfare dependent and will be a drain on economy. 


  • Median income for Syrian families is $62,000 – $9,000 higher than other foreign born households; $6,000 lower than U.S. born households (Migration Policy Institute [MPI] Fact Sheet).
  • While there is relatively low workforce participation by Syrian women, 49% of Syrian men in the U.S. work in high-skilled occupations – e.g. managerial, business, science (MPI Fact Sheet).
    • There are approximately 4,000 Syrian doctors in the U.S. – an affluent and philanthropic community (National Arab American Medical Association).
    • Syrians are highly educated, as a group (MPI Fact Sheet).
      • 39% are college graduates (vs. 30% U.S. born). 
      • Those arriving after 2012 have higher education attainment than previous waves of immigrants.
    • Several countries bearing the greatest burden of the refugee crisis, and in which Syrian refugees make up a large percent of the population, are experiencing growth in their GDP.
      • Turkey – GDP will grow 3.5% this year and continue at that rate next year (World Bank).
      • Lebanon – GDP has averaged 2% growth per year in recent years and is expected to reach 3% growth by 2018 (World Bank).
      • Jordan – GDP will rise by 3.5% in 2016 and attain growth of 3.8% in 2017 (World Bank).

Myth:   Syrian refugees (code for Muslims) will overrun the U.S.


  • There are 86,000 Syrian immigrants in the U.S., most from earlier waves of immigration (MPI Fact Sheet).
  • There were 2,174 Syrian refugees accepted since the start of the Syrian war to through 2015, making up roughly 0.0007% of the total U.S. population.
  • 10,000 additional Syrians would constitute approximately 0.004% of the total U.S. population.
  • Perceptions of Muslim penetration into different societies are often at odds with the facts:
    • European publics overestimate the percent of Muslims in their nation’s populations–e.g. French respondents to a poll thought 31% of their population is Muslim.  The actual percentage is closer to 8%. (Ipsos MORI poll, UK).
    • The Muslim share of the European population is steadily increasing – approx. 1%/decade, with only 8.6% projected in 2030 (less than 3% of the world’s Muslims) (Pew).

Myth: By bringing in Syrian refugees, we will be importing terrorists.  If we bring in any refugees, they should be Christians.


  • To date, the U.S. has not met its declared targets for resettling Syrian refugees. 28% of the 10,000 committed for FY 2016 have been resettled 7 months into the current fiscal year.
    • Of 2,174 Syrian refugees admitted between 2011 and 2015, 53 (2.4%) are Christians; 2,098 (96%) are Muslims.
    • Less than 10% of the Syrian population is Christian, and they have fled at lower rates than Muslims.  Focusing only on Christians fails to address the needs of the majority of refugees.
  • Of 750,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. since 9/11, fewer than 10 have been implicated in planning terrorist activities.  None of them were Syrian.
  • Two-thirds 2/3 of applicants referred for resettlement in the U.S. are women and male children under 11; 25% are men; the rest are female children and teen-age males. They are themselves escaping terrorists; on a number of occasions, ISIS condemned them for leaving Syria and rejecting its extremist ideology.

Myth: If we allow Syrian refugees to come to the U.S., we will import the same chaos and terrorism that Europe is experiencing.


  • The U.S. process for resettling refugees is different from Europe’s.  Europe processes refugees after they arrive on European soil.  The U.S. lets Syrian refugees into the country after an enhanced screening process, and before they come to America.
  • Historically, Muslim immigrants have been better integrated into U.S. society than in many Western European countries, where many report feeling marginalized and alienated.

Myth:   Most Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all, and there’s no changing their minds.


  • According to a Bloomberg Politics poll, 53% of Americans reject admitting any Syrian refugees. In contrast, a recent TENT Survey of 11 countries, including the U.S., shows that the messages that they hear affects their attitudes.
    • 57% of U.S. respondents hold mixed or positive views of Syrian refugees.
    • The more people know about the Syrian refugees’ experiences, the more positive they feel about admitting them.
    • Nearly half of respondents were open to changing their opinions, in particular after learning that most refugees hope to return home.
    • 34% responded positively to stories of refugees assimilating well.
    • 47% said that better knowledge of what is happening in the refugees’ home countries would make them more sympathetic to admitting Syrian refugees. A large majority of respondents felt responsible and want to help, but don’t know how.
    • The majority oppose discriminating on the basis of religion.
    • Key opinion drivers are: feeling a responsibility to help, economic considerations, security, and the need to provide financial assistance.
  • A poll conducted in the UK, revealed that 25% of the population is insistently anti-immigrant; 25% wants to let everyone in; and 50% are in “the anxious middle.”  The middle had humanitarian impulses, but were fearful. This 50% can be moved to shift their views, with the right narrative.  When combined with the liberal 25%, this the poll reveals a potentially large majority in favor to refugee resettlement.

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