2021 was an important year for Tennessee’s Refugee Resettlement Program. In the course of the year, we saw the ongoing effects of the coronavirus on case management and ability to access benefits, the preparation for increased arrival numbers while still experiencing delays and backlogs in arrivals due to Covid-19, and the brewing tension abroad in Afghanistan that would dominate refugee services in Federal Fiscal Year 2022. This may seem like a bleak picture for resettlement, but the year was characterized by a bubbling excitement animated by the hope and joy of possibility. Constantly we are reminded by the refugees we serve of the value of resilience. Daily they demonstrate the strength that comes from continuing to push forward, with the boldness to dream bigger. Last year was a year of dreaming bigger for Tennessee’s Refugee Resettlement Program.
A Year of Possibility
On May 3, 2021, President Biden raised the nation’s annual refugee admissions cap to 62,500 from 15,000. Despite this, the United States saw the lowest number of arrivals since the nation’s Refugee Resettlement Program was founded in 1980. This is due in large part to the backlog in processing and booking travel arrangements caused by COVID-19. However, the raised annual admissions ceiling marked an important turning point away from a continual decline of the nation’s ability to demonstrate welcome to the persecuted. Arrivals will not return to full capacity immediately, but in the meantime the Tennessee Office for Refugees is working hard to support capacity building at each of the resettlement agencies in the state, including increasing programming, pursuing additional funding opportunities, and supporting the onboarding of new staff.
In Federal Fiscal Year 2021, TOR was awarded a four-year grant for the Wilson-Fish TANF Coordination Program. The program helps refugees obtain the resources and life skills to become self-sufficient and achieve sustained social and economic wellbeing through coordination with the Tennessee state and county TANF offices. In addition to this new program, the first year of growth in the Refugee Youth Mentoring Program introduced a little over a year ago is helping refugee youth dream of educational and career goals that were previously out of reach.
The negative effects of Coronavirus on the ability to provide in-person services has opened the door to virtual case management. This will not be the norm for case management in the future, but it is an important practice to be able to provide services where access may otherwise be limited. More clients now have access to English Language Instruction and other services that are essential in their journey of self-sufficiency and long-term integration into their new communities.
Dreaming Big for the Year Ahead
Perhaps the most significant event in this decade of refugee resettlement in the United States is the vast undertaking of resettling thousands of Afghans forced to flee their homes in the fall and winter of 2021. The first months of Federal Fiscal Year 2022 (which runs from October 2022—September 2023) will be devoted to the unprecedented needs of resettling so many displaced individuals and families in a short period of time.
In addition to welcoming our Afghan Allies, the first quarter of Federal Fiscal Year 2022 has already seen a steady increase in arrivals through traditional resettlement pathways. The preparations in staff expansion and program development are already proving fruitful. We won’t stop there, though. In 2022, the Tennessee Office for Refugees is hiring AmeriCorps VISTA positions for the roles of Refugee Youth Mentoring Program Coordinators, Resource Development Coordinators, and English Language Instruction Coordinators. We are also partnering with community volunteers throughout the state as Tennesseans step up to become more involved in welcoming their new neighbors. 2021 was a year of possibility and dreaming big. As the exciting possibilities carry us into 2022, we anticipate a year of revitalization and expanding who is involved in welcoming refugees in their