Refugee Council USA Uses New Research to Inform Immigrant-inclusive COVID-19 Relief Measures in Shenandoah Valley, VA


Mo Kantner
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New research from New American Economy shows that immigrants in Shenandoah Valley make up over 28 percent of the Food Processing and 15.6 percent of the Restaurant and Food Services industry, yet over 31 percent of the immigrant population was without health insurance in 2018.


Shenandoah Valley, VA– New research from New American Economy (NAE) released today in partnership with Refugee Council USA and Church World Service Virginia highlights how immigrants are both essential to Shenandoah Valley’s rapid response efforts and especially vulnerable due to gaps in federal relief, barriers to language access, and increased risk of infection associated with frontline and essential work.

The full report is being released right as the Virginia General Assembly heads into a special session. Starting today the legislatures will have the chance to prioritize a budget that meets the needs of the state’s most vulnerable communities, including immigrant families.

“Refugees and immigrants are central to keeping the Shenandoah Valley thriving. When they aren’t volunteering and serving their neighbors, they are fueling growth and ensuring an economic future that benefits all. Immigrants have bought into the promise of Virginia and have committed to keeping Virginians safe and healthy during this pandemic,” said Susannah Lepley, Director of Church World Service Virginia, “There’s an old cliche that you find out who your friends are in times of trouble, well, immigrants and refugees have shown their friendship; now it’s time for us to show friendship right back by supporting workforce development opportunities so they can better support the prosperity of our great state.”


“The immigrant population is essential to keeping Shenandoah Valley running, yet especially vulnerable due to gaps in our social safety nets,” said Mo Kantner, Director of State and Local Initiatives at New American Economy. “Our hope is that the Virginia General Assembly recognizes the significant contributions that immigrants have made to the entire state of Virginia, and works quickly and innovatively to fill the critical gaps in federal relief programs. We need to ensure that Viriginia’s response and recovery efforts support and empower all of its residents through this economic and health crisis.”

Key findings from this report include:


  • Immigrants serve in essential industries and carry out vital roles that keep Shenandoah Valley functioning but put them at higher risk of infection. Despite making up just 6.6 percent of the region’s residents in 2018, immigrants comprise more than 28.6 percent of all Food Processing workers and 15.6 percent of all Restaurant and Food Services workers in Shenandoah Valley.
  • Immigrants play an important role in Shenandoah Valley as job creators but are concentrated in industries that are especially vulnerable to the economic recession caused by COVID-19. Immigrants make up 14.9 percent of business owners in General Services including personal services like laundry, barber, and repair shops, and 10.5 percent of business owners in the Construction industry.
  • Culturally sensitive and language accessible emergency materials are in demand. In 2018, 25 percent of immigrants, or 8,102, living in the Shenandoah Valley had limited English language proficiency. Among them, the top two languages spoken at home other than English were: Spanish (74.1 percent) and Chinese (6.5 percent).
  • Access to healthcare and medical services remains critical during this pandemic. Over 31 percent of immigrants, or 10,071 people, living in Shenandoah Valley were without health insurance in 2018.


Refugee Council USA is one of twelve recipients of NAE research to inform culturally sensitive emergency response measures that ensure all residents are included, regardless of immigration status. This customized research report highlights the demographic nuances of the Shenandoah Valley’s immigrant population and will inform the advocacy, development, and implementation of inclusive local emergency responses.

About New American Economy

New American Economy (NAE) is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization founded to educate, empower and support policymakers, influencers, and citizens across the country that see the economic and social benefits of a smart approach to immigration reform. NAE has created a coalition of civic, business, and cultural leaders who span the political spectrum and represent all 50 states. NAE makes the case for smart immigration reform in four ways: 1) we use powerful research to demonstrate how immigration impacts our economy, 2) we organize champions at the grassroots and influencer levels to build support for immigration, 3) we partner with state and local leaders to advocate for policies that recognize the value immigrants add locally, and 4) we show immigrant contributions to American culture through film, food, art, sports, comedy, and more.

Visit to learn more.