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 will meet 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.
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. This target may be expanded depending on the number of people who step forward to provide a warm welcome.
“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 will expand 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 the second half of 2023, the Welcome Corps will allow sponsors to identify a refugee or refugee family overseas whom they wish to sponsor and refer to the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program for consideration to be resettled in the United States.If accepted, the sponsors will then support the refugees during their resettlement process.
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.
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.
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 $2,375 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.
Although the work of sponsoring refugees is challenging, it is incredibly rewarding. “After the IRC 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.
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 IRC’s refugee, asylum and integration programs
The IRC has 28 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 war and conflict and assist resettled refugees become citizens.
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.