Social Assistance and Refugee Crime

Despite intense policy debates, the relationship between social welfare and refugee crime remains understudied. Taking steps to address this gap, our study focuses on Switzerland, where mobility restrictions on exogenously assigned refugees coincide with cantons’ autonomy in setting social assistance rates. Linking time-varying cantonal benefit rates between 2009 and 2016 to individual-level administrative data, we find that higher social assistance reduces criminal charges, especially for petty crimes and drug offenses. In light of limited (short-run) repercussions for refugees’ labor market participation, our results suggest social assistance can be a cost-effective measure to improve refugee welfare and enhance public safety.