America likes to talk story about itself: it is a haven, a haven for the weary, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe freely. It is a story that history shows has not always been true. But thankfully, it has now become easier for Americans to take matters into their own hands and make that ambition a reality.
The Biden administration launched the Welcome Corpsa new program that allows groups of Americans to directly sponsor refugees to resettle in their communities.
While recent programs have focused on transferring people from specific places – Afghanistan, Ukraine, Venezuela – this program allows individuals to resettle people from any place in the world as long as they are refugees as defined by the US. Refugee Act.
Under the Welcome Corps program, you and a few of your friends can pool funds to provide an immigration pathway that gives vulnerable people who might not otherwise be able to immigrate the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the U.S. . Forming a private sponsor group means bringing together at least five adults in your area and collectively raising $2,275 for each person you want to resettle in your community. With that money, sponsors commit to helping them spend their first three months there, which may include securing and furnishing housing, stocking the pantry with food, supporting job hunts, and enrolling children in school.
It’s a powerful way to improve life for the newcomers, by offering them protection from persecution or violence in their countries of origin, plus the chance of access to health care, education and socio-economic opportunities. It can also improve the lives of everyone in the newcomer’s orbit, including you and your neighbors. Research suggests welcoming refugees is likely to benefit your community as a whole, such as opening new businesses that revitalize neighborhoods. In Canada, a similar private sponsorship program has proven itself immensely popular and successful in the past decade.
But you might think: why should it be for private individuals to spend money, time and energy on resettling refugees? Should not have to that is the job of the government?
One thing to note is that individuals have long been part of the resettlement process in one form or another, for example by co-sponsorship between faith-based groups (such as churches, synagogues or mosques) and the government infrastructure. And by directly sponsoring refugees, citizens can provide them with more social support than the government alone could, in part because they focus on one specific refugee or refugee family, rather than dividing their attention among thousands, as is inevitably the case with government agencies . .
“If refugees have to flee their home countries, they lose social networks and social capital,” said Elizabeth Foydel, the director of the nonprofit’s private sponsorship program. International refugee aid projectone of the many groups who insisted on the Welcome Corps. “It is a very difficult aspect to come to a new place. But if you’re sponsored by a private sponsor group, you’ll benefit from tapping into all of their social connections and you might integrate more easily into the fabric of the community.”
Still, it’s a valid point: this is the task of the government. That is why the advocacy groups pushing for the Welcome Corps program insisted that all refugees who came to the US through private sponsorship be in addition to the number of traditional government-supported resettlement cases.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has indicated that it agrees with this. This means that by sponsoring a refugee, you can play a role in enabling the US to take in more refugees overall. It’s really additive.
And unlike previous programs for Afghans or Ukrainians, which were temporary, ad hoc responses to crises, the Welcome Corps is intended to be permanent. The hope is that it will complement the traditional resettlement process, which has struggled for years.
Why the US is abandoning refugees
Biden’s official target for fiscal year 2022 was to resettle 125,000 refugees, an ambitious goal that was set up to respond to growing global displacement. Instead, it resettled about 25,400.
“We very much have a national mythos about being a safe haven and being a nation of immigrants,” Foydel told me. “And for a long time, the US was the top country in terms of resettlement. But I think it’s absolutely fair to say that we’ve fallen short in recent years. Overall, you see a pretty sharp drop.”
Just look at this chart. From a peak in 1980 when the US Refugee Act was signed, the number of refugees admitted has generally fallen.
If you look back about 40 years ago, you can see that refugee resettlement used to be a two-pronged issue. For example, there are comparable numbers in a George W. Bush year and in a Barack Obama year. But over the past few decades, we’ve seen some pretty extreme politicization of what should be a core part of the American narrative, one that eventually started to weigh on the number of refugees.
The 9/11 attacks were a major turning point, Foydel explained. Then it became look more often at refugees – especially those from the Middle East – as potential threats to security. The resulting security auditing process became so incredibly rigorous that it acted as a bottleneck.
Then came the rise nativist discourse during the Trump presidency. The Trump administration has cut refugee intake to an all-time low of 15,000. Because the funding of refugee agencies is linked to the refugee cap, agencies have been forced to lay off staff and close offices. Travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic also played a role in delaying refugee resettlement. Canada – which has no more than one-tenth of the US population – has overtaken America as a world leader in resettlement.
Under Biden, the US has attempted to rebuild its resettlement infrastructure, albeit arguably too slowly. The agencies are in the undesirable position of having to rebuild, even as they try to serve thousands of Afghans, Ukrainians and others with the scarce resources they currently have.
That’s where the Welcome Corps comes in.
“We very much hope that this will increase capacity significantly,” Foydel told me. “What’s exciting about the private sponsorship program is that it can be a permanent, sustainable mechanism for Americans.”
This is how you form your own sponsorship circle in 6 steps
The private sponsorship program will have two streams. One is identification: if a group of sponsors has someone specific in mind, say someone they used to work with abroad, they can nominate that person for resettlement. (One example is a former foreign correspondent who has been posted to Bangladesh for a period of time and wants to sponsor someone they worked with there as a refugee.) The other is matching: If a group doesn’t have a particular person in mind, they will be matched with someone already being processed, helping that person get out of a very long pipeline otherwise it could take years traverse.
For now, potential sponsors are limited to the matching stream; the identification flow will open later this year.
Remember, even if the US government somehow manages to meet its fiscal year 2023 admissions target – which, again, 125,000 refugees — the expectation of the advocates is that private sponsorship can bring in thousands more than that.
Here’s how you can help achieve that.
1) Form a group of five or more adults. If you are excited about this program, you can contact four friends to get started a conversation. (You can email them this page or even this article to get the conversation going.)
2) Have each group member complete a mandatory background check. This is a fast one online process check if you have a criminal record.
3) Have one group member fill in one online course. This gives you some tips to ensure that your sponsorship circle will be proficient and successful.
4) Enter one welcome plan. You will want to spend at least a day on this as you will need to research the resources available in your community for needs such as job and language training. (From February 1, you can get help creating your welcome plan on official support sessions held every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.) You will also need to sign a simple commitment form.
5) Fundraising. You will need bank details or other proof that you have $2,275 per newcomer you hope to welcome. Here’s one fundraising guide.
6) Fill the application form. Once you’ve completed steps 1-5, it will only take you 10 minutes.
That is it! If your group is motivated, you can probably complete this process intermittently over a period of a few weeks. After you submit the application, it will take a few weeks before you hear back. If your application is approved, the sponsored refugees will arrive one to two months later. You can welcome them into your community and play a small part in helping America realize its vision for itself.