This article uses data from face-to-face interviews with recently resettled Burundian and Burmese refugees in Michigan to explore the concept of market citizenship. Market citizenship (Brodie 1997) is defined as the allocation of citizenship rights based on an individual’s economic power and participation in the labour market. While refugees have legal access to certain social rights, through the limitations of market citizenship, they are frequently denied access to those rights. Our data illustrates some ways in which that denial occurs, but also points to ways that refugees use family relations to circumnavigate the barriers to social citizenship that they frequently experience during the immediate resettlement period. Refugee families reassemble household configurations such that they increase the number of work-eligible household members, adjusting what we call the ‘neo-liberal citizenship ratio’. We argue that citizenship is broadly constrained by neo-liberalism, and that refugee families’ creative mobilization of familial and community relations are often the only avenue refugee households have to survive under neo-liberal constraints.

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