Social workers are found in every community, and in a variety of roles. Their function is vital, no matter what they do or where they’re employed.

An important practice area for social workers is immigrant and refugee assistance. Social workers in this field help individuals and communities deal with the unique challenges of immigration policies, including limited family visitation, family separation, family reunification, and emotional and social issues arising from assimilating into a new community.

Social workers might also play an essential role in immigrant and refugee communities by reporting issues such as employer exploitation, domestic violence, sex crimes, and child abuse to social service and law enforcement agencies. They act as mediators for individuals who are hesitant to report offenses due to fear of deportation.

Finally, as advocates, social workers play a role in standing up for immigrants who are the victims of anti-immigrant policies and discriminatory practices.

Helping with Resettlement

A primary focus of social work for immigrants and refugees is the identification and management of the social and emotional issues inherent in adapting to resettlement.

Areas in which social workers help:

  • Basic needs support

  • Crisis intervention

  • War and refugee trauma

  • Case management with referrals to social service agencies

  • Mental health counseling and support

  • Language supports

  • Help with education

  • Help with job search and employment issues

  • Integration with established residents in the area

  • Housing

  • Cultural disorientation

  • Loneliness

  • Adaptation to new community and cultural norms

  • Child protective welfare

  • Substance abuse

Social workers who help immigrants and refugees are also well positioned to work abroad; they become qualified for international humanitarian work in underserved and high–need villages and countries. In some MSW programs, immigrant social work falls under the banner of global social work; international fieldwork placements might even be available for those students.

Locally, MSWs can develop an expertise in working with immigrants and refugees through coursework and dedicated fieldwork experiences. If interested in immigrant and refugee work, students should aim for fieldwork placements in resettlement agencies or in not-for-profit organizations that specialize in helping these vulnerable populations.

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.