Refugee resettlement has long been seen as a purely humanitarian act. When refugees are “integrated” into the labour market, it is seen as a tool to promote values such as self-sufficiency and dignity. But refugee labour is often needed by host countries, and refugees are often inserted into industries where they are tasked with jobs host country nationals refuse to do. Using the example of the American meatpacking industry, which relies heavily on refugees resettled by the US Department of State, I discuss why refugees were simultaneously deemed “essential” and “prohibited” during the COVID-19 epidemic. This paradox, in which refugees are both indispensable and stigmatized, is used to racialize and devalue their labour, creating ethnic enclaves in the labour market that simultaneously permit them to work and trap them in dangerous, underpaid jobs.