Explainer: U.S. launches private refugee sponsorship program

February 20, 2023

Recently, President Biden announced a new pilot program to allow for individuals to privately sponsor refugees coming to the United States. Through the program, Welcome Corps, groups of at least five individuals can work together to raise funds to sponsor a refugee. Once the refugee arrives, these individuals, rather than a traditional resettlement agency, will assist them in securing housing, employment, and education for their children for at least 90 days as they integrate into American life.

This new initiative comes at a time where both international displacement is at record highs and the United States has struggled to meet its goals in resettling refugees through the traditional U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) process. 

This program presents new opportunities for individuals and churches to be involved in helping the persecuted and welcoming the vulnerable into our communities.

Why does it matter?

As Americans, it can be easy for us to feel distant from refugees around the world and to wonder why these backlogs and challenges matter. But the issues in the resettlement system are affecting the real lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, and a system that was designed to assist them in finding refuge is often leaving them stranded and unable to receive help in a timely and effective manner.

How can Christians get involved?

In the first year of this program, the Biden administration is hoping to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to sponsor at least 5,000 refugees. If you are interested in getting involved, here are a few suggestions:

How does this program work?

Definition of a refugee: Typically, under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a refugee is “an alien who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Those who meet this definition may seek refugee status if they are outside of the U.S. or asylum status if they are physically in the country. 

Here is a rundown of how the process works: 

Welcome Corps is similar to programs over the last year that utilized private individuals in welcoming and resettling Afghan and Ukrainian evacuees who, because of severe backlogs in the resettlement system, were brought to the U.S. under humanitarian parole, meaning that they did not receive traditional resettlement benefits granted to refugees. 

A number of factors have caused these slowdowns and backlogs throughout the process severely lengthening the amount of time it takes for a refugee to be resettled and limiting the number of individuals able to actually be resettled each year, regardless of the cap that is set by the president. Despite Biden’s goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022, the U.S. only resettled just over 25,000 refugees.

As the State Department said in announcing the program:

“The American people have extended an extraordinarily welcoming hand to our Afghan allies, Ukrainians displaced by war, and Venezuelans and others fleeing violence and oppression. The Welcome Corps will build on Americans’ generosity of spirit by creating a durable program for Americans in communities across the country to privately sponsor refugees from around the world. . . By tapping into the goodwill of American communities, the Welcome Corps will expand our country’s capacity to provide a warm welcome to higher numbers of refugees.” 

Hannah Daniel

Hannah Daniel serves as Policy Manager in the Washington, D.C. office. She graduated with a degree in Economics from Union University in 2020. She lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of King’s Church. Read More by this Author