With the rapid growth of Afghan refugees entering the U.S., resettlement programs in Phoenix are having to reevaluate the typical resettlement process and open their doors to intense refugee cases.

The refugee resettlement program has been working the same way since the 1970s with offices taking in new cases every weekday. Now with the immediate arrival of Afghans, offices are receiving cases 24/7 with most arriving at night, said Shava Shervati, Operations Manager at Arizona Immigrant and Refugee Services.

“We’ve been getting different information almost daily on what we can do once people arrive here,” said Heidi Urbina, Communications Coordinator at Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. “At first they were saying that people could not get federal benefits or financial aid, but they would be able to get work permits, so they wouldn’t be able to get all the normal benefits that refugees usually get.”

Once refugees arrive at their final destination, they are enrolled in services that include finding housing, case management services, and job preparation, according to LSS-SW.

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“Just a couple of days ago congress passed a bill saying people coming from Afghanistan would be eligible for those extra supports like food stamps, and financial aid and the reception in placement funds that are available to other refugees,” Urbina said.

In September, the continuing resolution was signed into law to help fund Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. following the end of the 20-year war, said President Joe Biden in a press release.

Along with the continuing resolution, there has been lots of support from the community,  Shervati said.

“We do have a grant from Airbnb that we are using right now,” Shervati said. “It’s temporary housing from seven days or 30 days, but we get to decide on a per case basis.” 

The AIRS and LSS-SW offer services that can last up to 5 years, but typically people will only be in the programs from three to six months, Urbina said.

“Sometimes we have cases where they’ve come and we find them a job, find them a place to live, and then we don’t hear from them for a couple of years,” Urbina said. “Then they come back looking for a job upgrade or maybe looking to go back to school, or different things that we can help them out with later on.”

Multiple resettlement programs in Phoenix also offer classes to help refugees accommodate to American culture, public transportation, and technology, Urbina said.

“The core services are the services that we require for every person but there are other services that they can enroll in. It’s just up to the client themselves and what they’re interested in doing outside of what they’re required to do with us,”  Urbina said.

Most refugees are expected to be self-sufficient within 180 days of entering the resettlement programs, according to the LSS-SW.

After living in the U.S. for 10 years and going through the resettlement process, most refugees are among the same rates as U.S. natives with labor force participation and business ownership, according to the Center for American Progress.

“We’ve just been trying to figure out how we can help accommodate to each individual person because they are all brought here in different stages of their immigration process,” Urbina said.