News

Launch of The Welcome Corps: Volunteer Support for US Refugees

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced the launch of The Welcome Corps on 19 January 2023.[1]  This is a large scale initiative to harness the volunteer spirit surrounding the welcoming of refugees to the United States, inspired in part by the Canadian private support of refugees.

Introducing The Welcome Corps: White House Briefing

24 January 2023, the White House held a briefing on the new initiative.  The new Welcome Corps organizes sponsor groups in the US of at least five US citizens or lawful permanent residents to welcome refugees with some of the services currently offered by NGOs. Private Sponsor Groups (PSGs) will help newcomers find housing, schools and other services. They will teach their sponsored refugees how to use a public library and public transportation. They will also act as civic role models and assist with job searches.  The Welcome Corps has taken some of its learning from the US neighbor to the North, Canada, according to Jon Finer, the Principal Deputy National Security Advisor at the White House.

The refugees will get the same vetting abroad and rigorous security checks as they have historically. The PSG members will get criminal background checked too, for the safety of the refugees.[2]  The PSG member vetting has been contracted out to the background screening company Sterling Volunteers, a New York City based organization. Group members will need to live in or near the same community together.  During the White House Briefing, Department of State Assistant Secretary Juliet Valls Noyes explained that the PSG would fundraise $2275 for each refugee that they sponsor.  PSG members commit to working in the group for 90 days.[3]

The pilot program for 2023 aims to have 10,000 private sponsors volunteer to assist 5,000 refugees. During the pilot program, groups will be assigned a refugee to sponsor.  The US government is looking at allowing groups to choose refugees to be matched with in future years.

President Joseph Biden’s order on this program was issued 4 Feb 2021.[4]  His goal is 125,000 refugees coming to the United States in the fiscal year, 10,000 plus per month.  So far in FY2023 however, which started 1 October 2022, there have been only about 6,000 refugees who have arrived in the United States.  The Welcome Corps anticipates the first PSG sponsored refugees to arrive in April 2023.

The refugees will arrive as they have historically via the US Refugee Admissions Program (RAP).  The refugees will still receive the same benefits from the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).  Representing HHS, January Contreras, the Assistant Secretary of HHS, in charge of the Office of Administration of Children and Families, explained that the ORR will still provide refugees with cash, medical aid, case management, help learning English, employment services, mental health support and help connecting Unaccompanied Refugee Minors with relatives in the US (usually a parent or close relative).  What is different is that some of the prior non-governmental agency services will be provided by the new PSGs under The Welcome Corps.

What Is a Refugee?

Refugee - “A refugee is any person who is outside the country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside the country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

Individuals and their family members granted refugee status overseas by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are brought to the United States for resettlement by the U.S. Department of State.”[5]

Footnotes

[1] Antony J. Blinken, Press Statement, Launch of the Welcome Corps - Private Sponsorship of Refugees (19 January 2023).

[2] The Welcome Corps Background Check Protocols

[3] The Welcome Corps website.

[4] The White House Briefing Room, Presidential Actions, Executive Order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration (4 February 2021).

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement Fact Sheet on Eligibility for ORR Benefits and Services – Refugees.