January 15, 2014
Tia T. Gordon
202-756-4851 or 202-906-0149
Asian American Support Groups Struggle With The Recognition Of America's 'invisible' Burmese And Bhutanese Refugee Student Communities
New Data on Two Largest Refugee Groups Reveal More Diversity Among the Asian American Population
Washington, D.C., Jan. 15, 2014—Fleeing from one's homeland, culture, and loved ones—especially while trying to live within a new, strange culture—is bound to be an emotionally wrenching experience for the thousands of refugees who resettle each year in the United States. In particular, refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan know all too well about the challenges involved with finding support and resources when resettling in America. While these communities make up the largest refugee arrivals in this country, with 30 percent and 26 percent respectively, Burmese and Bhutanese refugees continue to be the most overlooked and "invisible" Asian American populations in the United States, especially when it comes to their demographic patterns, socioeconomic outcomes, and educational attainment and experiences. The omission of these groups is to be considered given that all Asian Americans, including Burmese and Bhutanese refugee communities, represent the "changing face of America."
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF)—in collaboration with the Association for Asian American Studies—today released a new report, Invisible Newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States, which gives voice to and provides comprehensive data about the following "dire" challenges surrounding these refugee populations:
- Difficulty navigating systems to access long-term funding and support services
- Limited-English proficiency
- Intergenerational conflict between children/youth and elders
- Inability to communicate in various realms, including educational access, employment resources, for instance
"The impetus for releasing this critically important report was through continual assessment of APIASF's scholarship application cycle. We discovered that a growing number of our applicants and scholarship recipients are from the Burmese and Bhutanese communities," said Neil Horikoshi, APIASF president & executive director. "Further investigation into these groups, demonstrated the need for access to educational resources as well as additional research to inform policymakers, higher education leaders, and other resource providers about the experiences of students."
KEY FINDINGS AND CHALLENGES ABOUT BURMESE/BHUTANESE REFUGEES IN THE UNITED STATES
- Burmese and Bhutanese refugees make up the top two refugee groups and, in 2012, they represented 48 percent of all refugees. Bhutanese is the largest refugee group in the United States.
- The educational portrait for the Burmese American population is a bimodal one—39 percent of the population are high school dropouts (the highest of any AAPI group) and 31 percent possess a college degree or beyond.
- Many socioeconomic barriers exist in the refugee adaptation process. One of the key barriers is limited-English proficiency.
- Age of refugee arrival matters. Those who are older, with no prior formal education prior to their arrival, tend to experience the greatest difficulties in educational attainment. This is related to the point made regarding limited-English proficiency. Moreover, those who arrive as teens or young adults also have a more difficult time adjusting.
In addition to sharing a historical and demographic portrait of the Burmese and Bhutanese experience in the United States, Invisible Newcomers: Refugees from Burma/Myanmar and Bhutan in the United States also outlines several policy implications and offer recommendations for different stakeholders to enhance the refugee integration process. They include providing adequate pre- and post-arrival orientation sessions, making readily available intensive English-as-a-Second-Language training, extending educational and social support services, and offering job training and job development, to name a few.
About the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund
Based in Washington, D.C., the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) is the nation's largest non-profit provider of college scholarships for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). APIASF works to create opportunities for students to access, complete, and succeed after post-secondary education; thereby developing future leaders who will excel in their career, serve as role models in their communities, and will ultimately contribute to a vibrant America. Since 2003, APIASF has distributed more than $70 million in scholarships to AAPI students across the country and in the Pacific Islands. APIASF manages three scholarship programs: APIASF's general scholarship, the APIASF Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions scholarship program, and the Gates Millennium Scholars/Asian Pacific Islander Americans funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
About the Association for Asian American Studies
The Association for Asian American Studies was founded in 1979 for the purpose of advancing the highest professional standard of excellence in teaching and research in the field of Asian American Studies; promoting better understanding and closer ties between and among various sub-components within Asian American Studies: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Hawai'ian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and other groups. AAAS sponsors professional activities to facilitate increased communication and scholarly exchange among teachers, researchers, and students in the field of Asian American Studies. The organization advocates and represents the interests and welfare of Asian American Studies and Asian Americans. AAAS is also founded for the purpose of educating American society about the history and aspirations of Asian American ethnic minorities.