AUSTIN (KXAN) — Refugee Services of Texas, the state’s largest refugee resettlement agency, announced it is laying off almost half of its staff and closing its offices in Fort Worth and Houston because of a budget shortfall.

The agency is asking local Texans for donations as it puts a pause on accepting new refugee arrivals for the next 120 days. It is trying to raise $4 million by June 1.

A budgetary shortfall

Refugee Services of Texas (RST) helps people who have been granted refugee, or asylee status, resettle into Texas. The agency was busy after the mass evacuations of Afghan refugees from their home and continues to help people from that country. The agency said it has helped resettle 10,594 Afghans since September 2021, the most of any state.

The past 18 months the agency has resettled the most refugees it has seen in its 45-year history, helping more than 4,700 people. It far outpaces what the agency was expecting and what it had budgeted for.

The agency only expected to settle about 3,200 people in fiscal year 2022 and 2023. Fiscal year 2023 began in October of 2022. The agency was able to help everyone who arrived, but in doing so, depleted its financial reserves to almost zero, according to a news release from the agency.

In response, the agency is laying off 45% of its staff and is expected to furlough even more employees. The Austin office will remain open during the pause in operations.

What is the impact?

Part of the services RST provides when resettling refugees is helping them find a job. Many refugees have specific skill sets and are looking to join the local workforce whenever they relocate.

Austin is one of the top three cities in Texas where refugees are being resettled. Erica Schmidt-Portnoy, the chief programs officer for RST, this pause could have a potential impact on the local workforce.

“Local employees need refugees to continue to arrive to Texas to take jobs and go to work. That is the plan. The impact really should be short term,” Schmidt-Portnoy explained.

The pause also affected RST employees. There were 73 people employed at the Fort Worth and Houston offices that are now closed.

Schmidt-Portnoy said the current refugees that are being served will continue to be served by RST. All future arrivals will have to be handled by national refugee partner agencies that RST has been communicating with.

“We feel pretty confident and thankful for our partner agencies support during this time because we know that they are taking on quite a bit more than they planned on as well,” Schmidt-Portnoy said.

Will this impact what’s happening at the southern border?

KXAN asked RST if it provided services to the asylum seekers who are entering the United States through its southern border, and if the pause in operations will impact how the country handles the recent influx of migrants.

Schmidt-Portnoy explained that RST only helps people who are officially recognized as refugees or asylees by the federal government. That process is usually done before people come into the country.

The thousands of people who are coming into the country through the southern border are asylum seekers. Once they surrender themselves to border officials and declare they are seeking asylum, they will have to go through the asylum process.

The asylum process can take years as more people try to enter the country and the immigration system faces a backlog.

How can you help?

RST is currently asking for any and all donations from people who would like to contribute.

Those who would like to help can make a donation at RST’s website located here.