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What Are the Main Challenges Facing Immigrants and Refugees?

What Are the Main Challenges Facing Immigrants and Refugees?

As a country founded by immigrants, the United States is a welcoming host to nations throughout the world. Since 1980, nearly two million foreign nationals have migrated to America, with up to 75,000 arriving each year. Their reasons vary.  Some are forced to flee from violence, persecution, poverty, and hunger in their homeland; others turn to the United States in hopes of better opportunities and to establish a better life, often taking great risks during the journey.

Despite the United States’ acceptance of all, migrants and refugees often face significant challenges following their arrival, hampering their ability to make a peaceful and prosperous life in their new home.

Language and Communication Barriers

The majority of migrants entering the United States do not speak English, and many are often illiterate, hampering their ability to thrive and gravely impacting all aspects of their lives. With English the predominant language, immigrants and refugees are forced to learn as best and as quickly as they can to find housing, employment, attend school, and communicate with the English-speaking population.

Nearly every American community offers English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, but many have a difficult time attending because of work and family obligations, and those unable to read or write in their native language face incredible challenges in learning English.

Finding Housing

Securing safe and affordable housing is a significant challenge for immigrants and refugees arriving in the United States, particularly when they are unable to speak the language and obtain very low-paying jobs. Because of this, migrants are often mistreated, excessively charged, and threatened with eviction by dishonest and negligent landlords. Families unaware of their rights or by an inability to stand up for themselves legally often comply and continue to be exploited by the homeowner.

Securing Employment

Finding and securing work is quite difficult for immigrants and refugees, especially if there is a language barrier or lack of education, specific skills, or experience that reduces available opportunities. Many who can find work often are forced to take unstable, and often unregulated, jobs with long and late hours, low wages, and no benefits. It is not uncommon for migrants educated and trained as doctors, scientists, engineers, and teachers to be forced to take menial jobs and likely never to be able to work in those professions in the United States.

Oftentimes, large families migrate to the United States, including young children and elderly parents and grandparents, who live together in exceedingly small housing. The difficulty in securing work with good wages and health benefits to provide for the entire family can become insurmountable for many, leaving many impoverished and struggling to survive for years.

Raising and Educating Children

A significant challenge facing immigrants and refugees is raising their children in a foreign culture and helping them succeed academically. Children, particularly younger ones, learn the language at a much faster pace than older family members and adapt quickly to their new environment. This new dynamic is often at odds with their native culture and beliefs and becomes a source of contentiousness for many families.

In school, children may be placed in grade levels based on their age rather than their knowledge and ability. Children often struggle to keep up and face discrimination and bullying as a result, especially if they are unable to speak English to inform teachers and staff. Frequently, migrant children receive little to no academic help from parents who lack education themselves and cannot speak English. Attempts by school officials to intervene and offer assistance are often ignored if the parents are unable to communicate.


Transportation affects nearly aspect of life for everyone, but it is often an exceptional barrier for migrant families. Studies have shown that lack of transportation opportunities stifles the ability for many to overcome poverty. Access to affordable and particularly public transportation allows workers to accept jobs further from their home. For many migrant and refugee families who cannot read or speak English and lack funding for tickets and fares, transportation is a significant hurdle. The result drastically limits job opportunities and prevents them from applying for jobs in other locations.

Illiteracy and language barriers also prevent many from obtaining a driver’s license, and the cost of a vehicle is often out of their reach on the low wages they earn. For those who can get a license and purchase a vehicle, it is often shared among multiple family members, further complicating transportation for the family.

Accessing Health Care and Services

Except for housing, each of the previously mentioned challenges all impact immigrants’ abilities to access health care and services, particularly for non-English speaking families. Lack of transportation and an inability or unwillingness to leave work for appointments are often factors as well. Unfortunately, those who do seek out healthcare and other services and assistance often have a negative experience given language limitations and lack of a support system.

Fear of deportation is a frequent underlying factor, even for those legally in the country, causing them to avoid doctors, legal services, government programs, and more. Mental health is of serious concern, as many immigrants flee countries in turmoil, violence, and war and have often experienced violence, assault, extreme poverty, and food insecurity first-hand. Consequently, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are quite common among immigrants and refugees; however, they are likely unaware or afraid to seek help, and fearful of reprisal if mental health issues are taboo in their native culture.

Cultural Barriers

Migrating to another country obviously brings challenges culturally, no matter which country you are leaving or which one you are entering. Societal norms, politics, family dynamics, religion, traditions, dress, food, and other issues are vastly different from one country to the next and can negatively impact those entering a foreign country. Cultural barriers affect how groups interact with one another, and even good intentions may be perceived negatively to immigrants and nationals alike, causing tension and strife for all involved. For many migrants coming to the United States, cultural norms can be incredibly difficult to overcome, making integration into their new society difficult and lengthy.

Sadly, cultural differences such as language, appearance, clothing, food, and mannerisms make migrant children targets for bullying and ostracizing in school.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Help Families Migrating and Settling in the United States

There are many reasons thousands of immigrants and refugees leave their homeland in search of a better life and more opportunities in the United States. Sometimes the transition can be frightening and difficult, and many do not know where to turn for assistance. The experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC are available to help. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.

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