Federal Welcome Corps program lets private citizens sponsor refugee resettlement

American citizens will soon be able to lend a greater hand in refugee resettlement, as the federal government launches a new private sponsorship program called Welcome Corps(Opens in a new window).

Announced in January by the U.S. Department of State,(Opens in a new window) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the program will allow groups of American citizens to jointly sponsor refugees approved to enter the country through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)(Opens in a new window)


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Welcome Corps, described on the program’s website as “a new service opportunity for Americans to welcome refugees seeking freedom and safety,” is the largest venture in federal resettlement work since the USRAP’s inception in 1980. Historically, initial resettlement assistance to newly arriving refugees has been facilitated primarily through nonprofit agencies partnering with the government. In 2021, President Joe Biden announced a new executive order, Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees(Opens in a new window), to restructure this system, unveiling the beginning of Welcome Corps and building off of previous programs supporting Afghan and Ukrainian refugee resettlement. 

Through Welcome Corps, groups of private U.S. citizens can share resources — including knowledge on how to build a life in their local communities — and engage directly in the resettlement of displaced refugees for the first 90 days of their stay.

The launch will feature two phases: The first will see groups of sponsors matched with individual refugees already approved for resettlement in the first six months of 2023. The second phase will allow private sponsors to nominate specific applicants for support through Welcome Corps. It also will be advised by a group of nonprofit experts in the field of refugee resettlement and services.

Importantly, the program isn’t intended to be an individual philanthropic effort, and individuals and organizations(Opens in a new window) are already connecting online to express support and coordinate potential partnerships. Weekly information sessions for the Welcome Corps program(Opens in a new window) began shortly after the program was announced, and spots have already filled up for the first two sessions in February.

Here’s everything else you need to know to join the Welcome Corps.

How do I apply?

Those interested in participating in Welcome Corps(Opens in a new window) must first join a group of private sponsors that will commit together to support a refugee. These are known as Private Sponsor Groups (or PSGs), and they must be made up of at least five members who live in or near the same community. 

Applicants must complete a background check(Opens in a new window), attend Welcome Corps training sessions(Opens in a new window), and sign a commitment form(Opens in a new window) to participate. 

The PSG application also requires a well-documented Welcome Plan(Opens in a new window) to prepare support for prospective refugees, which includes a plan for airport pickup and initial reception, housing, basic start-up necessities, documentation, and other social services. The application also requires a plan for language immersion, employment, and cultural connection, along with an expected budget. 

Once all documentation is ready and training sessions have been completed, PSGs can submit an application online(Opens in a new window).

Accepted PSGs will be required to complete reports after the first 30 days and at the end of the 90-day sponsorship. They must also fill out surveys at six and 12 months after the individual has arrived in the United States. 

Who is eligible to sponsor a refugee?

Sponsors have to be American citizens or permanent residents of the United States. You must also be 18 years or older to join. 

How much will it cost?

Welcome Corps sponsorship requires a minimum of $2,275 in cash or in-kind donations committed per refugee. PSGs are encouraged to fundraise prior to submitting an application.

Can I pick the person I sponsor for refugee resettlement?

The Welcome Corps program will offer two different ways to sponsor an individual entering the country: The first mode of sponsorship will be through a matching process in which the State Department assigns a group of sponsors to a specific individual. The second will be through the specific nomination, or “identification,” of a known individual, which allows sponsors to support the resettlement of an eligible person they might already know, such as a friend, relative, or coworker.

For the initial launch of the program, Welcome Corps will offer random matching only. The first group of matched refugees is expected to arrive in April 2023, and will primarily come from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program is anticipated to expand to allow PSGs to refer refugee applicants for consideration beginning in mid-2023.

How can groups and organizations support Welcome Corps?

Community organizations and institutions can participate as “Private Sponsor Organizations” (or PSOs), and may be eligible for funding from private philanthropists through the program’s consortium of nonprofit partners. According to the State Department, several known organizations have already joined the initiative, including humanitarian organizations Alight(Opens in a new window), HIAS(Opens in a new window), and International Rescue Committee(Opens in a new window), as well as refugee resettlement initiatives Every Campus A Refuge(Opens in a new window), Home for Refugees USA(Opens in a new window), and IRIS(Opens in a new window) (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), among others. 

Is there a federal limit on how many refugees can be sponsored?

The government hopes to mobilize at least 10,000 sponsors to support 50,000 refugees during Welcome Corps’ initial launch. Any additional sponsors beyond the first 10,000 may still be matched with someone in need. 

Broadly, the U.S. government sets internal admissions targets for refugee entries at 125,000 people(Opens in a new window). However, those numbers have not been met in previous years, and private sponsorship has the potential to expand the number of refugees able to resettle in the United States(Opens in a new window).

How does my support help?

As described by the program, sponsors (and their donations) welcome refugees by “securing and furnishing initial housing, greeting the refugee newcomers at the airport, enrolling children in school, and helping adults to find employment,” as well as addressing any other needs identified by sponsors and collaborators. 

When does the application period begin?

Welcome Corps is already accepting applications for PSGs and PSOs, available online(Opens in a new window). Applicants can expect to hear back within one to two weeks. 

What else do I need to know?

Before applying, prospective sponsors are encouraged to join a Welcome Corps information session, which will be held via Zoom every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET through March 16(Opens in a new window)

Additional information about the program can be found on the Welcome Corps website(Opens in a new window)

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