U.S. Welcome Corps appeals to the “generosity of everyday Americans” with a Private Sponsorship Program for Refugees

On January 19th, Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State announced the creation of the Welcome Corps, a “new private sponsorship program that will enable Americans to sponsor refugees arriving through the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP), directly support their resettlement and make a difference by welcoming these new neighbors into their communities. This program invites Americans to be partners and guides to refugees as they build new lives in the United States and help them realize their full potential.”

According to the press release the program is “designed to strengthen and expand the capacity of the USRAP 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. In the program’s first year, our goal is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least 5,000 refugees from around the world……  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.”

Information about the Welcome Corps or about how to become a private sponsor can be found at https://welcomecorps.org. This site shows the Welcome Corp as a new service opportunity for Americans to welcome refugees seeking freedom and safety. The sponsor groups (of at least 5 people)  assist in securing and preparing initial housing, welcoming refugee newcomers at the airport, assist in enrolling children in school, and helping adults find jobs.

U.S. law gives the President the sole authority to set the number of refugees that will be admitted each year. The previous President set the limit at 15,000 per year. During his first year, President Biden set the number at 62,500 per year and for the last two years the number was increased to 125,000 per year. The actual number of people admitted to the U.S. as a refugee is typically far fewer than the limit. During the first three months of the fiscal year starting in October 2022, only 6,750 refugees were admitted. Much of the reason is that cuts made by the previous administration forced refugee resettlement agencies to downsize, lay off staff, and shutter offices. The coronavirus pandemic contributed to the problem. Embassies and consulates slowed down or closed and stopped conducting interviews that were necessary to allow the refugees to enter the U.S. 

Welcome Corps was established to “strengthen and expand the country’s capacity for resettlement.” It will help in increasing admissions and speeding up processing. 

Under the Welcome Corps, U.S. citizens and permanent residents form groups of at least 5 adults that are called Private Sponsor Groups (PSG). A PSG can be formed by friends, neighbors, work colleagues, members of faith groups book club members – any group of adults that together meet the requirements. 

The FAQ section of Welcome Corps answers the question about the responsibilities of the PSG as follows.

Private Sponsor Groups (PSGs) commit to providing welcoming services to arriving refugees for their first 90 days in the community. They secure and furnish initial housing, provide for initial basic needs, and make connections to relevant services, such as health care, education, and employment services. Most importantly, PSGs offer friendship and support to those adjusting to life in a new community. 

The Welcome Corps provides PSGs with training and access to tools and resources, including a budget template, fundraising support, an arrival checklist, and ongoing guidance throughout the sponsorship period.

The financial commitment of a PSG is a minimum of $2,750 in cash and in-kind contributions per refugee. This is used to secure and furnish housing and provide for the refugee’s basic needs until they obtain employment. 

Another FAQ talks about the length of the commitment for PSGs as follows:

Sponsors commit to providing friendship, guidance, and financial support for the refugees’ initial 90 days in the United States. As it often takes longer for an individual to integrate into their new community, sponsors also commit to making connections to ongoing support services, available from local organizations.

Even as the sponsorship commitment is for just 90 days, the relationships built, both between the sponsors and refugee newcomers as well as among members of the sponsoring community may last a lifetime.

This program is like successful programs which have been operating in Canada and Australia.

I can almost hear people asking – I know someone that I want to sponsor, can I sponsor that person?  The short answer is not at this time but perhaps soon. Initially, the PSG can’t propose a particular refugee. The refugees sponsored would be those who the U.S. government has approved for resettlement through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The refugees must complete security vetting and a health screening. In the future (perhaps mid-2023) the State Department plans to expand to allow private sponsors to identify refugees they wish to sponsor and to refer these applicants to the USRAP for consideration.

If this program is of interest to you, you can sign up for email updates and announcements at welcomecorps.org.

Linda M Kaplan