RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- If the United States is the Land of Opportunity, then North Carolina is the State of Hospitality: the Tar Heel State welcomes more immigrants and resettled refugees than most others in the country, including Florida and New Mexico.
"The Triad is flourishing, the Triangle is flourishing - construction, hospitality, out east as well." Jennie Belle, the Triangle's World Church Service Community Organizer, explained to ABC11. "This is a diverse state."
Belle added that more than 150,000 migrants from Latin America work in North Carolina's agricultural sector, and many more obtain temporary work visas for other entry-level work, including cleaning positions in restaurants and hotels.
Many of these immigrants, however, do not remain permanently in North Carolina. Immigrants seeking asylum, moreover, are already in the country and must go through a lengthy legal process to prove their case to stay. Refugees, on the other hand, apply for resettlement in their home countries, and North Carolina again tops out among most states as their destination.
According to the U.S. Department of State, a refugee is "someone who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The first step for most refugees is to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which s/he has fled. UNHCR has the mandate to provide international protection to refugees. UNHCR determines if an individual qualifies as a refugee and, if so, works toward the best possible durable solution for each refugee: safe return to the home country, local integration, or third-country resettlement."
Click here learn more about North Carolina Refugee Resettlement programs
In new data obtained by the I-Team, 514 refugees have moved to North Carolina so far this year - seventh most among U.S. states - and most come from countries oceans and continents away, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (219), Burma (110), Ukraine (39) and Eritrea (26). Only one country in the top five, El Salvador (34), is in Central America. The data also suggests that based on all refugees from El Salvador resettling in the United States, just seven of those in North Carolina are ages 14 and under.
Click here to learn more about refugee resettlement throughout the United States
Significantly, the overall numbers of immigrants and refugees arriving in North Carolina continue to plummet; in 2016, there were 3,719 refugees resettling in North Carolina from 37 countries. In 2017, that decreased to 1,280 refugees from 31 countries. Based on available data, 2018 projects around 1,050 refugees in North Carolina from less than 20 countries.
"Whether it's budget cuts or the fear at the border, deterrents are working," Belle lamented. "This has been going on for the last five years, and economically, North Carolina will soon notice the difference."
I-Team: Surprising data on immigrants and refugees in NC