[Read the full profile at Tekie Tsegay: An Eritrean refugee struggles to find work in Chicago]

The moment he applied for resettlement, Tekie Tsegay, an Eritrean refugee, had already started dreaming of coming to America. He read up on American history, culture, the refugee experience, and even attended three weeks of orientation classes.

“I loved the American Dream,” Tsegay beams. “If you worked hard in America, you can become anything.”

Listen to Tsegay explain why Australia might be a better host country than America.


In September 2010, Tsegay was resettled with his wife into a cozy studio apartment on the north side of Chicago. Though he was advised to soak in his new environment slowly, he was eager to begin forging his version of the American Dream.

By October, he was already interviewing for jobs, signing up for classes at the local college, attempting to make new friends, and trying to find familial connections in the U.S.

“I was thankful for America, but I felt alone in Chicago,” Tsegay reflects.

It is not known how many refugees move once they’ve resettled in the U.S. from their host state, however Debra Hlvana from East Central Illinois Refugee and Mutual Assistance Center estimates that more single individuals, rather than families, move for the sake of work, a familiar community, or the chance to reconnect with newly found relatives. She says that the majority of families choose to stay in their initial host state and look for similar ethnic communities rather than uproot.

Tsegay hadn’t made much progress in obtaining a job in Chicago and had heard from an uncle’s friend, who happened to be a reputable doctor, that Washington D.C. not only had a lively Ethiopian and Eritrean community but a thriving job market for refugees.

Feeling no real attachment to Chicago, he asked a representative from RefugeeOne, his refugee resettlement agency, whether moving to D.C. was a good choice.

If individuals plan on moving they “need enough time to go through [medical] screening and to get issued a social security card in addition to some form of ID. I would guess it would take anywhere from four to six weeks but the worst case we’ve had was up to three months,” states Hlvana.

“It’s very important to complete their [medical] screening and keep a record of their paperwork. Otherwise, if they can’t prove their immunizations they will have to redo all of them,” Hlvana stresses.

Before finalizing the decision to move, refugees are strongly advised to inform their refugee resettlement agency, more specifically their case manager, as soon as possible. They will be helped with the logistics of moving as well as contacting agencies in the new state for future reference.

Until refugees become citizens, they must continue to inform the US Citizenship and Immigration Services of their current address. They must also inform the US Postal Service about the change in address so mail can be directed to the proper place.

Hlvana also advises refugees to make sure they know the individual(s) and the location to where they plan on moving really well. “Though every refugee has the right to move where ever they please within the U.S., before taking this big step, visit the location and meet the family members to make sure you not only enjoy their company and it is healthy for you but that you can afford living there.”

Tsegay was advised by RefugeeOne to contact his case manager in order to write a letter to public aid to transfer his benefits. He was also advised to keep in touch with refugee resettlement agencies and other services in both the host state and the new state as a helpful resource.

Once refugees move from their host city, they relinquish the services that were set up by the resettlement agency. Oftentimes, that means breaking lease contracts for housing, like in Tsegay’s case.

“If you leave you have to pay a penalty to the landlord and you have no guarantee you will get to live here if you need to come back. It seemed too complicated,” Tsegay concludes.

“My advice would be to stay in the host city until they’ve applied for a green card, after they’ve been there for a year. However, if they can’t find work and they heard there is work somewhere else, I would suggest to contact their case manager and move!” Hlvana urges.

After weighing his options, Tsegay has decided to stay in Chicago for the time being.

“I still think going to D.C. is a possibility in the future, but the jobs are opening here and I found an African church that I go to [every] Sunday.”

“The American Dream is about working your hardest no matter what, and for now I will work my hardest in Chicago.”