US Department of State launches new sponsorship program for refugees

The US Department of State (DOS) Thursday launched the Welcome Corps, a new private sponsorship program for migrants arriving in the US. The program comes only a few weeks after the Biden administration announced they would extend a parole program to Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian migrants crossing the US southern border. The parole program relies in part on sponsors, like those in the Welcome Corps, to offer legal entry pathways to the US.

The Welcome Corps will operate groups of at least five US citizens, called Private Sponsor Groups (PSGs), to help migrants navigate housing, transportation, employment and schooling for children. PSGs are meant to supply their knowledge of the local communities to migrants for their first 90 days in their US resettlement area. PSGs must raise a minimum of $2,275 per migrant to support their initial introduction–at least until the immigrant obtains employment.

The Welcome Corps will only accept migrants with approved refugee status under the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). The DOS will directly match PSGs with approved refugees. Approval under USRAP requires a lengthy security vetting and health screening from the US along with a rigorous review of their refugee claim. US immigration authorities must find that the migrant has a well-founded fear of persecution that prohibits them from returning to their home country. Cases identified and referred to USRAP by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a US embassy or a nongovernmental organization (NGO) receive the highest review priority. Groups of special humanitarian concern identified by the US and family reunification cases receive lower priority, respectively.

The Welcome Corps is designed to expand so that private sponsors can recommend refugees to USRAP for the program, but the Biden administration has not yet detailed how that will occur.

The program is a result of a collaboration between DOS and several NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee and the International Refugee Assistance Project. The program aims to mobilize as many as 10,000 US citizens as PSGs and to welcome at least 5,000 migrants.

The Biden administration has overseen a series of refugee crises like the surge of refugee claims following the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Uniting for Ukraine campaign led by the Homeland Security Department following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Most recently, in early January, the Biden administration introduced a parole program for asylum seekers coming from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. The parole program is designed to stem the influx of migrants arriving on the US southern border. It relies on expanding legal pathways for US entry to migrants with sponsors–a program the Biden administration previously only offered to Venezuelans.

The earliest Welcome Corps placement is estimated to occur in April 2023. The DOS estimates that early participants in the program will likely be refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa, though others will be eligible.