On January 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of State announced a new private sponsorship program, entitled the Welcome Corps, which allows groups of five or more adult U.S. citizens (called Private Sponsor Groups, or PSGs) to apply to sponsor refugees for resettlement in their communities. Sponsors commit to raising funds (2,275 USD per resettled family member) to support refugees through their initial months in the United States. Under this program, sponsors also promise to provide “core services” for the first 90 days after resettlement. These include airport pickup upon arrival, helping newly resettled families find and furnish suitable housing, obtaining jobs and necessary government documents, and assisting children with enrolling in school. These services closely mirror services provided by resettlement agencies, who have been typically responsible for assisting resettled refugees. Which begs the question as to the reason for the Welcome Corps program.
The program, run by the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (USRAP), in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and a consortium of six organizations specialized in refugee resettlement and protection, aims to resettle at least 5,000 refugees in its first year. It has been hailed as one of the biggest innovations in USRAP history. The Welcome Corps website details requirements for sponsors hoping to participate in the program, including mandatory vetting procedures, sponsors’ financial commitment, and other expectations. Potential sponsors can also voice their questions during live information sessions, held weekly via Zoom.
In light of the U.S. government’s recent failures to resettle its target number of refugees (only 25,000 refugees were resettled in FY 2022, despite a goal of 125,000), the program could be used as a tool to help the U.S. government reach its existing refugee admissions targets. Encouragingly, a speaker at an information session stated that Welcome Corps applicants will further the Biden administration’s aim of improving USRAP, and that refugees resettled via the Welcome Corps program should facilitate additional resettlement, beyond U.S. government annual targets. Another source specialized in refugee law and resettlement echoed this sentiment, stating that with Biden’s aim of improving USRAP, refugees resettled via the Welcome Corps could result in additional resettlement, above government targets, in the program’s future years.
As with any immigration program, the Welcome Corps program could be subject to abuse, given the incentives. Another possible concern is that through this program, the State Department seeks to increase the number of refugees resettled in the United States by adding another pathway for resettlement, despite the fact that existing resettlement pathways might be sufficient if they were properly resourced, and if USRAP and USCIS processes were not subject to bureaucratic delays in vetting refugees, lengthy backlogs for consular interviews, and embassy closures, which have hindered refugee resettlement in the U.S. in recent years.
The program has generated significant interest - over 500 people reportedly registered to attend a single information session, and the website attracted thousands of unique visitors in its first week. It appears that the Welcome Corps program and associated organizations are doing their best to provide sponsors with information and appropriate resources to assist newly resettled refugees, and to ensure that refugees resettled via private sponsors will be kept safe, including background checks for all potential sponsors, and a thorough review of each PSG’s plan to support those resettled. Both the Welcome Corps website and a February 2 information session emphasized the “enduring relationships” and ongoing mentorship that will likely occur between PSGs and refugees they sponsor, even after the 90-day period of PSGs’ mandatory support ends.
However, these resources do not provide much clarity on what happens - for sponsors and refugees alike - when inevitable problems arise. For example, a sponsor group may not be a good fit for the family with whom they are matched, or a resettled family may wish to move to another area in the U.S. It is also not clear what happens if the period of obligatory financial contribution for sponsors ends, but their sponsored refugee family has yet to become “self-sufficient.” Designated resettlement agencies are likely accustomed to dealing with such matters, however, private citizens may be less equipped to address such challenges.
Some features of the program are set forth below.
Key takeaways for individuals seeking resettlement:
● In the initial months of the program (Phase I), refugees selected for resettlement will be refugees already in the USRAP pipeline. In other words, eligible individuals in Phase I are registered refugees who have already been designated and approved for resettlement in the United States.
○ In this phase, PSGs are matched with refugee families based on the size of the family that the PSG is able to support, languages spoken, and the specific resources available in the PSG’s community.
○ The Welcome Corps website suggests that many refugees resettled in the first phase will come from sub-Saharan African countries, who have been awaiting resettlement for multiple years.
● Private sponsors will be able to nominate specific refugees to USRAP for consideration for resettlement in Phase II of the program, which is expected to begin in mid-2023.
○ Refugees nominated to be considered for resettlement in Phase II do not need to be in the USRAP pipeline.
○ The PSG’s application naming the refugee(s) they wish to sponsor will serve as the refugee’s referral to USRAP.
○ Please note resettlement through Phase II of the Welcome Corps program will not be instantaneous (one source suggested a time frame of roughly two years), due to time required for USRAP procedures. It appears that refugees of any nationality, including Syrians, are eligible to be nominated for resettlement during Phase II. However, refugees referred for consideration to USRAP in Phase II will be “subject to program criteria established by the U.S. government.”
○ More details are forthcoming on this phase. Attendees at a Welcome Corps information session were instructed to join an email list to receive further updates about Phase II.
Key takeaways for potential sponsors:
● PSGs must demonstrate that they have raised $2,275 cash per sponsored family member to be resettled (roughly $10,000 USD for a family of four) and in-kind assistance, in order to support newly resettled refugees for a period of 90 days.
● All members of each Private Sponsor Group must undergo a background check and sign a code of conduct prior to submitting their group’s application.
○ Certain charges or convictions, including crimes involving violent behavior or assault, human trafficking, identity theft, and drug use render individuals ineligible from becoming a sponsor.
● PSG applicants will be able to access Application Support and guidance from experienced “support organizations” throughout the application and sponsorship process.
Screenshot of application process (from a February 2 information session)