Why Do Immigrants and Refugees Give Back to Their Communities and What can We Learn from Their Civic Engagement?

Suzie S. Weng, University of North Florida
Justin S. Lee, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro


Each year thousands of immigrants and refugees begin their lives in new places, speaking new languages, and facing new challenges. Challenges include access to health/mental care, education, transportation, and employment. Researchers and practitioners frequently focus on challenges of newcomers and their deficits in meeting needs for self-sufficiency. This study explores newcomers’ giving back and emphasizes an untapped reservoir of strength and capacity. Based on qualitative semi-structured interviews with 54 immigrants and refugees, themes identified include (1) a desire to maintain ethnic identity and connection; (2) ethnic community as an extension of family; (3) a sense of duty and obligation; and (4) measure of achieved success. Researchers and practitioners should shift their view to recognize the strengths and capacities of newcomers who give back to their communities.