US launches pilot program to enable private sponsorship of refugees from around the world

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Washington — The State Department on Thursday announced a pilot program that will allow groups of US citizens and permanent residents to financially sponsor the resettlement of refugees fleeing war and violence around the world.

The Biden administration’s Welcome Corps initiative could pave the way for a seismic shift in US refugee policy, as most refugees brought to the US in recent decades have been resettled by nine nonprofit organizations that receive federal funding.

Under the program, modeled after a longstanding system in Canada, groups of at least five individuals residing in the United States could be given the opportunity to sponsor refugees if they raise $2,275 per refugee, pass a background check and submit a plan about how they will help newcomers.

Approved private sponsors will play the role of traditional resettlement agencies for at least 90 days after a refugee’s arrival, helping newcomers gain access to housing and other basic needs such as food, medical services, education and public benefits for refugees. which qualify.

During the first phase of the program, State Department officials will match approved sponsors with overseas refugees who have already been cleared to come to the US. In mid-2023, officials plan to allow potential sponsors to identify refugees abroad who want to help.

In a statement on Thursday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the Welcome Corps initiative will help the US increase refugee admissions, calling it “the boldest innovation in refugee resettlement in four decades.” CBS News reported the show’s launch on Wednesday.

“It aims to strengthen and expand the capacity of the [U.S. refugee program] harnessing the energy and talents of Americans from all walks of life who want to serve as private sponsors – from members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and universities and more,” said Blinken.

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An aerial view shows al-Fawwar refugee camp southwest of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on April 8, 2021.

HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images


The State Department said it expects to recruit 10,000 private sponsors to resettle at least 5,000 refugees during Welcome Corps’ first year. Organizations with experience in resettling refugees will be tasked with overseeing the sponsor application process, providing training and resources to sponsors, and monitoring the progress of groups sponsoring refugees.

The Welcome Corps initiative is the latest effort by the Biden administration to expand legal immigration channels for refugees and migrants with family members and others in the U.S. willing to financially sponsor them.

By the end of 2021, the State Department allowed “sponsorship circles” of at least five private individuals to sponsor some of the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees relocated to the US following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Then, in early 2022, authorities launched a program to allow Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion of their homeland to come to the US under humanitarian parole authority if they had US-based sponsors. More than 100,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the US under the policy, federal statistics show.

Authorities have since expanded that approach, allowing US-based individuals to sponsor the entry of citizens from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela as part of an effort to prevent migrants from those countries from crossing the southern border illegally. Like Ukrainians, migrants from these countries will be allowed to legally live and work in the US temporarily through the probation authority.

Unlike those arriving under the parole authority, refugees arriving under the sponsorship initiative announced on Thursday will be eligible for permanent legal status and ultimately U.S. citizenship once they are processed through the program. traditional refugees.

Formally created in 1980, the US refugee program has provided safe haven for more than 3 million refugees who have fled armed conflict, ethnic persecution and other forms of violence. Refugees undergo interviews, security screenings and medical exams as part of a process years before coming to the U.S.

While President Biden has pledged to rebuild the US refugee system, which has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic cuts of the Trump era, his administration fought to return refugee admissions to pre-pandemic levels and meet its lofty resettlement targets.

In fiscal 2022, the US admitted 25,465 refugees, using just 20% of the 125,000 refugee slots allocated by Biden. In the first three months of fiscal 2023, for which Biden again set a goal of taking in as many as 125,000 refugees, the US resettled fewer than 7,000 refugees, State Department data shows.

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Internally displaced people walk on a road at the Bushagara site, north of the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, January 13, 2023.

GUERCHOM NDEBO/AFP via Getty Images


While the pandemic temporarily suspended refugee admissions and delayed refugee interviews, the program was drastically reduced under policy directives issued by President Trump, who argued that refugees were economic, national security and cultural threats to the US.

The Trump administration has drastically reduced refugee intake, allocating an all-time low of 15,000 places in the 2021 fiscal year. It has also restricted the categories of those who could be resettled and tried to give states and cities a veto on resettlement of refugees. The restrictions and low ceilings have led organizations that resettle refugees to lay off staff and close offices across the country.

As the Biden administration struggles to rebuild the US refugee system, the number of people displaced by violence around the world has surpassed 100 million, more than at any other time in history, according to the United Nations.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a leading US resettlement group, praised the private sponsorship program for having an “innovative approach to leveraging the generosity of the American spirit.” But she urged the Biden administration to also prioritize accelerating refugee processing and increasing admissions.

“At a time of unprecedented global displacement, there are many vulnerable children and families depending on the full restoration of our nation’s humanitarian leadership,” said Vignarajah.

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