The iconic words memorialized inside the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” capture a welcoming spirit cultivated by many Americans. With over 100 million people displaced around the world—the highest figure ever recorded – these values are needed to help refugees find safety and resettle in the United States.

On Jan. 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of State launched the Welcome Corps, a program that allows ordinary Americans to privately sponsor refugees and support their resettlement in the United States. People from across the globe forced to flee their homes due to war, violence or persecution, and who are approved for resettlement by the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program, will benefit from the initiative.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has partnered with the Welcome Corps to provide support and match refugees with compatible volunteer groups. The IRC meets weekly with sponsor groups to discuss challenges and ensure that refugees receive all necessary services and support in their resettlement process. 

Read on to learn more about the Welcome Corps and to find out how you can sponsor or support refugees in the U.S.

The Sebatware family poses for a picture outside their home in Phoenix, Arizona.
After escaping war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sebatware family lived in a refugee camp for 20 years before being resettled in Phoenix, Arizona by the IRC. Many refugees who will be welcomed through the Welcome Corps program will come from Sub-Saharan Africa, where people have waited for years, even decades, for resettlement in a safe country.
Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

What is the Welcome Corps?

The Welcome Corps is a private sponsorship program that matches groups of ordinary Americans with refugees approved for resettlement in the United States. Interested sponsors apply as a group of at least five to welcome refugees and provide them with services comparable to those offered by federally funded resettlement agencies. Welcome Corps sponsors step in and help refugees find housing and employment, learn English, and settle into new communities.

The Biden Administration has announced a goal of having 10,000 Americans sponsor 5,000 refugees in 2023. In less than a year, more than 65,000 Americans have signed up to learn more about the Welcome Corps, with many beginning their sponsorship journey by forming a private sponsor group and being matched with a refugee or refugee family resettling in the United States.

“The United States has long been a humanitarian leader for those fleeing violence and persecution,” says IRC president and CEO David Miliband. “The International Rescue Committee is proud to support the launch of this effort and join Americans from all walks of life and across the nation to welcome refugees.”

The Welcome Corps is expanding the U.S.’s capacity to welcome more refugees each year, saving lives and reuniting families. The program’s grassroots approach emphasizes the benefits of welcoming refugees as neighbors and helps refugees overcome challenges associated with integration.

In December 2023, the Welcome Corps expanded to make it possible for Americans to apply to sponsor refugees they know for resettlement in the United Statesby submitting a referral directly to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. This expansion of the Welcome Corps holds the promise of reuniting families and friends who have been separated from loved ones in the United States by crisis.

Before coming to the United States, all refugees, including those supported through the Welcome Corps, must complete thorough security vetting and a health screening by the U.S. government.

A Ukrainian family is greeted with flowers at the Wichita, Kansas airport.
From left to right: IRC community coordinator Galyna helps to welcome Ukrainian refugees Volodomyr, Viktoriia and Neal upon landing in their new home, Wichita, Kansas.
Photo: Ivonne Conover for the IRC

What challenges do refugees face in the U.S.?

Refugees have been forced to leave their communities, businesses and homes behind. From learning a new language to finding a job to deciphering a new culture, refugees face an array of challenges as they resettle in their host countries.

“I helped resettle refugees who have been living in refugee camps with tough conditions, sometimes for 20 years,” says Una Bilic, an IRC community sponsorship senior program officer. “There are plenty of things that we as Americans take for granted in our everyday lives.” 

There is an urgent need to support resettlement as many refugees, including those born in refugee camps, spend years and even decades waiting for a new start in a safe country. Welcome Corps sponsors help make their transition to life in America as smooth as possible.

Three Afghan women sit together in a library on the Arizona State University campus.
From left to right: Arifa, Zahra and Hadisa were evacuated from Afghanistan in 2021. The IRC helped them resettle in Arizona, where they continue to pursue their education at Arizona State University.
Photo: Nisha Datt for the IRC

How can I join the Welcome Corps?

To join the Welcome Corps, interested sponsors must form a group of at least five adult American citizens or permanent residents. The group must then apply to the program, submit a welcome plan, and pass background checks. Each group is expected to donate or raise $2,425 for each sponsored refugee and commit to supporting the integration of newly arrived refugees for at least 90 days.

Sponsors help refugees find housing and employment, enroll children in school, learn English, and apply for important documentation like Social Security.

A new process allows applicants to sponsor someone they know. Learn more about how to sponsor someone you know.

Although the work of sponsoring refugees is challenging, it is incredibly rewarding. “After the IRC's Tallahassee office opened in 2015, I resettled over 30 clients myself,” says Una. “It changed my life in a way I didn’t think it would—I was exposed to many new cultures and was able to help families from all over the world."

Beware of scams and misinformation regarding the refugee sponsorship process. Access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and support from the Welcome Corps is free for refugees awaiting resettlement to the United States. Consult the official Welcome Corps website and partner organizations, like the IRC, for accurate information.If you are approached by someone asking for money in exchange to expedite refugee processing or speed up a sponsor application, please contact [email protected].

Sifa embraces her husband, Kakule, at the Salt Lake City airport.
Sifa reunites with her husband, Kakule, after seven years apart. They were separated when violence forced them to flee their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sifa was able to resettle in Salt Lake City, Utah with their children in 2014, but Kakule was forced to stay behind. The IRC helped reunite the family in 2021.
Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

How does the IRC support the Welcome Corps?

The Welcome Corps builds on a long tradition of groups of Americans coming together to resettle refugees. The IRC is proud to support the Welcome Corps alongside our coordination of other refugee resettlement programs.

Partnership with the Welcome Corps

The IRC has partnered with the U.S. Government and nonprofit agencies as part of the Welcome Corps, using our expertise in refugee resettlement to provide technical assistance to private sponsor groups across the country. We also play a key role in connecting refugees to suitable sponsors. Among the many considerations are whether group members share the refugees' language or live in an area that has an existing community of people from the newcomers' home countries.

“The IRC will consider a variety of factors and match private sponsor groups with refugees to help ensure the resettlement process runs smoothly,” explains Una. “We will support at least 50 groups a year throughout the resettlement process and provide guidance on how to resettle refugee families."

The Welcome Corps Support Line

The IRC has launched a new initiative, the Welcome Corps Support Line (WCSL), to support everyday Americans in navigating the resettlement process for refugees sponsored through the Welcome Corps. The WCSL will provide technical assistance to private sponsor groups in the form of general resettlement guidance, access to shared learning resources, information about local community support and referrals to other available programs.

The goal of the Welcome Corps Support Line is to be a resource for private sponsor groups and a bridge between refugee newcomers, their sponsors and local community service providers to facilitate efficient and effective enrollment in additional programs.

Private Sponsor Groups (PSGs) can access the Welcome Corps Support Line by calling (212) 551-3100, Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm ET, or emailing [email protected].

Welcome Corps at Work

The U.S. Department of State announced the launch of the Welcome Corps at Work (WCW) program, a new initiative that offers a humanitarian solution to both skilled labor shortages in the United States and refugee displacement abroad.The IRC, along with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), is leading the implementation of Welcome Corps at WorkWCW connects U.S. employers with qualified refugees and, once employers make a concrete job offer, facilitates the refugee’s resettlement through private sponsor support.

The WCW is a refugee resettlement program distinct from labor visa pathways. Refugees resettled through the Welcome Corps at Work program are processed through the USRAP, arriving with refugee status and a pathway to U.S. citizenship.

The IRC’s refugee, asylum and integration programs

The IRC has 29 U.S. offices located across the country to support newly arrived refugees with immediate aid, including food, housing and medical attention. We help refugees find jobs, learn English and become familiar with American culture. We also work to reunite refugee families separated by conflict and assist resettled refugees to become citizens.

Maha stands outside a Federal office building waving a US flag and smiling.
Maha stands outside a federal building in New York City after passing her citizenship exam. A refugee from Jordan who resettled in the U.S. with the IRC’s support, Maha says, “I am an American woman and I have my roots here. I put my roots in this ground.”
Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

How can I support refugees?

You can learn more about sponsoring a refugee through the Welcome Corps here.

The IRC also provides opportunities for community groups to sponsor refugees while receiving support from an IRC office. Groups within 100 miles of an IRC office can become co-sponsors while groups further than 100 miles away can support refugees as community partners. 

“Becoming a co-sponsor is a great option for people who want to support refugees but don’t have the capacity to take on all of the responsibilities that come with being a sponsor under the Welcome Corps program,” says Una. “You and your group can work with a local IRC office to fund the services that refugees need and support their resettlement process with financial contributions that assist refugees with rent, utilities and other immediate needs.”

Additional information on supporting refugees with support from the IRC can be found here.

*Some names have been omitted for privacy.