The US is launching a pilot program that allows private sponsorship of refugees from around the world

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

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

According to the program, modeled after a long-standing one system in Canada, groups of at least five people based in the US could be eligible to sponsor refugees if they raise $2,275 per refugee, pass background checks and submit a plan for how they will help newcomers.

Approved private sponsors will act as traditional resettlement agencies for at least 90 days after a refugee’s arrival, helping newcomers access housing and other basic needs, such as food, medical services, education and public benefits, for which they are responsible.

During the first phase of the program, State Department officials will match approved sponsors with refugees abroad who have already been cleared to come to the United States. In mid-2023, officials plan to allow prospective sponsors to identify refugees abroad they wish to help.

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

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

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 hopes to recruit 10,000 private sponsors to resettle at least 5,000 refugees in the first year of the Welcome Corps. Organizations with experience in refugee resettlement will be tasked with oversight sponsor application processproviding 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 US willing to sponsor them financially.

In late 2021, the State Dept allowed “sponsorship circles” of at least five private individuals to sponsor some of the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees to the US since the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

Then, in early 2022, officials launched a program that allows Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion of their homeland to come to the U.S. under humanitarian parole authorities if they have U.S.-based sponsors. More than 100,000 Ukrainians have come to the U.S. under the policy, federal statistics show.

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

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

Officially established in 1980, the American refugee program granted asylum to more than 3 million refugees identified as having fled armed conflict, ethnic persecution and other forms of violence. Refugees go through interviews, security checks and medical examinations as part of a years-long process before coming to the US

While President Biden has promised 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 was struggling return refugee intake to pre-pandemic levels and meet its lofty resettlement goals.

In fiscal year 2022, the US accepted 25,465 refugees, using only 20% of the 125,000 refugee places allocated by Mr. Biden. In the first three months of the 2023 fiscal year, when Mr. Biden again set a goal of accepting up to 125,000 refugees, the U.S. resettled fewer than 7,000 refugees, the State Department figures show.

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


While the pandemic has temporarily halted refugee admissions and delayed refugee interviews, the program has been drastically scaled back under policy directives issued by President Trump, who has argued that refugees are an economic, national security and cultural threat to the US

The Trump administration has dramatically reduced refugee admissions, allocating an all-time low of 15,000 spots in fiscal year 2021. It has also limited the categories of those who can be resettled and sought to give states and cities the right to veto refugee resettlement. The restrictions and record low ceilings have forced organizations that resettle refugees to cut staff and close offices across the country.

As the Biden administration struggles to rebuild the U.S. 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 to the United Nations.

Chris O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, one of the main US resettlement groups, praised the private sponsorship program for relying on a “progressive approach to harnessing the generosity of the American spirit.” But she urged the Biden administration to also prioritize speeding up refugee processing and increasing admissions.

“At a time of unprecedented global displacement, there are too many vulnerable children and families who depend on our nation’s humanitarian leadership to fully restore itself,” Vignarajah said.

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