U.S. launches private refugee sponsorship program

The Welcome Corps allows Americans to privately sponsor refugees arriving in the country
By Nawar Nemeh for RFA
2023.01.19
Washington
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U.S. launches private refugee sponsorship program Afghan refugees walk through an Afghan refugee camp at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J., on Sept. 27, 2021.
Credit: Associated Press

The U.S. State Department launched a new program on Thursday called the Welcome Corps that will allow Americans to privately sponsor refugees applying to move to the United States.

The program, formed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, plans to place 5,000 refugees with 10,000 American sponsors in its first pilot year, a State Department press release said.  

It is intended to “enable Americans to sponsor refugees … directly support their resettlement, and make a difference by welcoming these new neighbors into their communities,” it said. 

The State Department plans to partner  with “members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and universities, and more.”

Vietnamese Hoang Trong Man, who fled to Thailand in 2018 to avoid a crackdown by security forces as part of his membership in an opposition political group, said he hoped the new program would enable him and other asylum-seekers to immigrate to the United States.

“I am extremely happy as this program can help refugees like us get settled sooner,” he told Radio Free Asia. “It brings hope to many people who have been living in Thailand as refugees for years.”

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Ukrainian refugees wait in a gymnasium in Tijuana, Mexico, April 5, 2022. Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees arrived daily in the Mexican border city, where they waited two to four days for U.S officials to admit them on humanitarian parole. Credit: Associated Press

Asylum-seekers in Thailand face the risk of arrest and detention in Thai  immigration detention centers because the Thai government has not signed the International Convention on Refugees, he said.

Former President Donald Trump had slashed the cap on refugees allowed into the United States to 15,000. The administration of President Joe Biden has raised that number to 125,000. 

“Initially, individuals served through the Welcome Corps will count toward the ceiling for refugee admissions. However, it is anticipated that will shift over time, with those being served through the program being additional,” Sarah Krause, Executive Director of the Community Sponsorship Hub, one of the organizations leading the Welcome Corps, told RFA. 

The program “draws upon lessons learned from the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, which was developed by the Community Sponsorship Hub in response to the fall of Kabul,” Krause added. 

While targeted by regions initially, Krause said the program is intended to expand in a way that gives private sponsors agency in helping select refugees. 

“In phase 2, anticipated to launch in mid-2023, Americans will be able to identify or name particular refugees in need of protection, regardless of their country of origin, thereby facilitating their referral to the US Refugee Admissions Program,” Krause said. “Those refugees will then be required to undergo the same vetting as other refugees being considered for admissions to the United States.”

Small groups could sponsor a refugee

The program will also allow groups to collectively sponsor individual refugees, requiring that they are based in the specific community where refugees will live.  For example, a group of five or more Americans would be able to sponsor an individual.

All refugees admitted would be processed through the standard U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, with the Welcome Corps serving as an auxiliary support to help new refugees establish a new life. 

The earliest refugees under the program are expected to arrive in April. 

The program’s website indicated that refugees from several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa will be highest on the priority list.

The Welcome Corps requires Americans who sign up to commit to providing U.S.$2,275 per refugee arriving in the United States.

“It’s a dream [come true],” Nam Loc, who has worked with VOICE Canada and successfully helped bring about 170 Vietnamese to Canada since 2015.

He hoped that the new program would boost the number of people able to resettle in the United States.

Some asylum-seekers said that although the new program was a positive move, they did not have high expectations of its ability to help all refugees in need. 

“As you know, the Biden administration promised to receive 125,000 refugees coming from many countries, but this program has not been implemented or has been done very slowly,” said religious freedom activist Nguyen Van Hoang, now a refugee in Thailand together with his wife and two children.

 Updated to include comments from the Community Sponsorship Hub.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.

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