The Ukraine Immigration Task Force is excited to announce a new program that hopes to increase the number of refugees admitted from other countries. The State Department just launched Welcome Corps, which represents the first major development in U.S. refugee immigration in a long time. This program will enable Americans to help thousands of people from around the world start new lives in the United States through private sponsorship.
The new program follows President Biden’s February 2021 Executive Order 14301 on “Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees” and reinforces the Administration’s commitment to welcome those seeking refuge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an official briefing and answered preliminary questions about the program. The transcript and briefing can be found on the State Department’s news page: https://www.state.gov/press-releases/
We believe it is important to expand vital immigration channels for all people fleeing war, persecution, violence, and disaster while providing them with sustainable community networks to help them rebuild their lives.
Here are some details about the program:
Welcome Corps was launched by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) as an effort to welcome higher numbers of refugees and “strengthen, modernize, and expand” the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Since the formal inception of the USRAP in 1980, the State Department has partnered primarily with non-profit resettlement agencies to provide initial resettlement assistance to newly arriving refugees. As a part of the USRAP, the Welcome Corps program creates an opportunity for private individuals to engage in resettlement and expand the capacity of U.S. refugee admissions.
Welcome Corp is led by the Community Sponsorship Hub and will be implemented by a consortium of six resettlement and refugee organizations, including Church World Service/Refugee Welcome Collective, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Welcome.US.
Welcome Corps will support individuals who are established as refugees by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and are approved for resettlement through the USRAP. Before coming to the United States, they will complete a health screening and extensive security vetting by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. After the refugees are admitted to the U.S., they will be eligible for employment authorization, health benefits, other types of assistance, permanent residence, and eventually, a path to U.S. citizenship.
The Welcome Corps program is modeled after the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghan humanitarian parolees that was launched in October 2021, which itself is modeled after the Canadian private sponsorship program. Through Welcome Corps, Americans can apply to form Private Sponsor Groups (PSGs) to welcome refugees into local communities and help them build new lives. Private sponsors must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who are at least 18 years old. Groups of at least five sponsors may join the Welcome Corps. Sponsors will take on tasks that provide newcomers with critically needed tangible assistance as well as a sense of belonging and inclusion to their new environment after they left behind virtually everything and everyone they knew.
Sponsors must raise a minimum of $2,275 in cash and in-kind contributions per refugee newcomer being welcomed. This is used to secure and furnish housing and provide for refugees’ initial basic needs until they secure employment. Sponsors will then be responsible for greeting the refugee newcomers at the airport, helping them access essential services such as health care, enrolling children in school, and helping adults to find employment.
Sponsors commit to providing financial support, guidance, and friendship for 90 days. They also commit to making connections to ongoing support and services with local organizations. Welcome Corps will provide the Private Sponsor Groups with access to tools and resources such as a budget template, fundraising support, arrival checklist, and ongoing guidance throughout the sponsorship period.
The Private Sponsor Group will indicate in the application the family size it is willing to sponsor and information about the community’s resources. The Welcome Corps team will then match Private Sponsor Groups to refugees who have been approved for resettlement. The application review process will take a few weeks. The sponsored refugees will arrive 1-2 months after the Private Sponsor Group’s application is approved by Welcome Corps team members. The first privately sponsored refugees will begin arriving through Welcome Corps in April 2023.
The State Department will roll out the Welcome Corps program in two phases in order to “identify, evaluate, and scale-up the most successful elements of private sponsorship as an innovative, community-led model of resettlement” with the goal of maintaining the Welcome Corps as a key part of the U.S. refugee resettlement system.
In the first phase of the program, private sponsors participating in the Welcome Corps will be matched with refugees whose cases are already approved for resettlement under the USRAP. The State Department will begin facilitating matches between private sponsors and refugees arriving within the first six months of 2023. Many of those who will be welcomed by private sponsors in the first few months of the Welcome Corps will come from Sub-Saharan Africa, where they have been waiting for years for a durable solution.
In the second phase of the program, private sponsors will be able to identify refugees in need of protection. Beginning in mid-2023, the Welcome Corps will expand to allow private sponsors to refer refugee applicants they would like to support for consideration to the USRAP, subject to program criteria established by the U.S. government.
More details can be found in the State Department Fact Sheet.
As of now, we don’t have any further information on which countries of origin will be available for refugee selection beyond those currently considered under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Likewise, we don’t yet know if this program will open channels for individuals from Ukraine. It is possible that some Ukrainians could be considered for refugee admission on a case-by-case basis if they meet the legal criteria for refugee eligibility and are approved for resettlement in the U.S.
Applications for the Welcome Corps program are now open. The State Department seeks to mobilize 10,000 Americans as private sponsors and welcome at least 5,000 refugees. If more than 10,000 individual Americans join the Welcome Corps in 2023, the State Department will seek to pair the additional sponsors with refugees in need of welcome.
We applaud the State Department, Community Sponsorship Hub, Church World Service/Refugee Welcome Collective, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), and Welcome.US on the launch of this historic program.
To sign up for an upcoming information session via Zoom, visit https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUqdeisqD0pE9YSF6zG1VwVTVQYJYkESqTJ.
The State Department’s new Welcome Corps program for refugees operates in parallel to the existing private sponsorship programs managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for humanitarian parolees from Ukraine, Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua. Private individuals and sponsor circles may also sign up to sponsor humanitarian parolees through the Welcome Connect platform at Welcome.US.