The Biden administration on Thursday announced a new pilot program to allow groups of Americans to sponsor refugees directly, a move the State Department described as “the boldest innovation in refugee resettlement in four decades.”
The State Department program, Welcome Corps, will allow groups of private American citizens to sponsor refugees through the Refugee Resettlement Program if they raise enough money, pass background checks and come up with a plan on how to support them.
The pilot program which will require groups of at least five people to raise a minimum of $2,275 in cash and in-kind contributions per refugee to secure their initial needs before they can gain employment. The commitment will be to provide “friendship, guidance and financial support” for the initial 90 days of a refugee’s resettlement in the U.S.
The State Department said the program will be in two phases, the first involving the administration facilitating matches between private sponsors and refugees. The second phase, to launch in the middle of the year, will allow sponsors to identify refugees to refer to the agency for resettlement. The State Department is aiming to mobilize 10,000 Americans to help at least 5,000 refugees, and said it would be supported by a consortium of non-profits with expertise in the area to support the Corps. That consortium will help with vetting, training and monitoring of the program.
“The Welcome Corps is the boldest innovation in refugee resettlement in four decades,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “It is designed to strengthen and expand the capacity of the [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program] by harnessing the energy and talents of Americans from all walks of life desiring to serve as private sponsors – ranging from members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and universities, and more.”
The State Department had announced its plan for a private sponsorship program in a report to Congress last year and was planning for a launch in late 2022 that was ultimately delayed.
“The purpose of the program is to increase and deepen the involvement of local communities in effective refugee resettlement, recognizing the significant and impactful role that local community actors have long played in supporting the welcome and integration of refugees admitted to the United States through the USRAP” the agency said in the report. “The program is intended to complement the Reception and Placement Program by creating new, additional opportunities for individuals and organizations nationwide to be directly engaged in supporting refugee resettlement.”
The department said it is being launched as a pilot to allow the agency to test and evaluate various components of the program, “and identify the successful elements of the pilot that will form the basis of an effective, sustainable private sponsorship that becomes a foundational part of U.S. refugee resettlement.”
The Biden administration has dramatically reversed the limits on refugee resettlement introduced during the Trump administration. The Trump administration reduced the yearly cap on refugees to 15,000. The Biden administration changed course and increased it to 125,000, but so far refugee resettlements have not come close to meeting that level.
It has also allowed private individuals to sponsor evacuees from both Afghanistan and Ukraine, as part of a broader commitment to opening legal avenues for migrants and refugees fleeing harm. The administration launched a program last year to bring in 100,000 Ukrainians via a program using humanitarian parole authority after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but that program does not contribute to the refugee cap.
More recently, the administration announced an expanded humanitarian parole program that allows up to 30,000 Venezuelan, Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants to fly into the U.S. if they have a U.S.-based sponsor in response to a surge in migrants at the southern border.
“The Welcome Corps will build on the extraordinary response of the American people over the past year in welcoming our Afghan allies, Ukrainians displaced by war, Venezuelans, and others fleeing violence and oppression,” Blinken said. “In the face of unprecedented global displacement, the United States will continue to lead the international community in humanitarian response, including refugee resettlement. By launching the Welcome Corps, we build on a proud tradition of providing refuge and demonstrate the spirit and generosity of the American people as we commit to welcoming refugees in need of our support.”