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How can my community group sponsor a refugee in the U.S.?

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The war in Ukraine, coupled with the change of government in Afghanistan and the many persistant crises around the world, has pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence and persecution over the staggering milestone of 100 million. The U.S. government responded to this past year’s crises by welcoming 76,000 people forced to flee Afghanistan—the largest evacuation of its kind since the Vietnam War—and committing to accepting 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, as well as raising the refugee resettlement ceiling to 125,000 for fiscal year 2022.

Before the Refugee Act of 1980, refugee resettlement in the U.S. was largely conducted privately or through community groups. The act standardized the process and today most refugees in the U.S. are primarily welcomed through resettlement agencies, such as the International Rescue Committee.

There have always been American communities eager to step up to welcome newcomers. However, beginning with the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and continuing today as people flee Afghanistan and Ukraine, more local community groups have been offering their help. The IRC and other resettlement agencies have responded to this enthusiasm by integrating community sponsorship at the local and national levels.

Here’s what you need to know to get involved: 

What is community sponsorship? 

Community Sponsorship is an umbrella term that describes different models of resettlement in which clients are paired with community groups who provide the following:

1.   In-Kind Contributions

2.   Financial Contributions

3.   Service delivery to support the welcome and integration of refugees in your local community.

Community sponsors must be an established organization, such as a business, university community, faith group, sports team, or local club. Individuals or informal groups may not serve as community sponsors. Community sponsors do not have to be a formal 501c3, but must be structured.

Depending on where you live, your group can either become a co-sponsor (for groups within 100 miles of an IRC office) or a community partner (for groups further than 100 miles from an IRC office) for newly arrived refugee families.

Interested in becoming an individual sponsor through the U.S. government's "Uniting for Ukraine" program? Learn more here

A woman in a blue and yellow dress holds her one year old son and smiles while standing in front of a house

Jacqueline Uwumeremyi fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 because of escalating violence. In October of 2018, the IRC helped her resettle in Boise, Idaho, where she was welcomed by the local church community. Today, Jacqueline, who speaks five languages, works as an interpreter and helps other refugees adapt to their new community.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt for the IRC

Become a Co-sponsor

Co-sponsorship is a form of community sponsorship available to groups located within 100 miles of participating local IRC offices. These groups provide clearly defined financial and in-kind contributions as well as services for a refugee family, while their efforts are overseen by the local IRC office. 

As a co-sponsor, you have the potential to significantly enhance a refugee family’s quality of life, including by helping them find better employment opportunities, assisting them with learning English, offering social support and connecting them to opportunities for civic engagement. The services you would provide alongside a local IRC office could include:

  • Securing a safe, sanitary and affordable housing unit for the family that is available for at least 6-12 months;
  • Ensuring housing is equipped with appropriate household items;
  • Greeting and welcoming the family at the airport;
  • Providing food and items for basic needs;
  • Connecting adults to English classes and employment services;
  • Assisting in the gathering of personal identification documents;
  • Enrolling minors in school;
  • Connecting to cultural orientation and integration services;
  • Linking to employment services;
  • Facilitating medical follow up and transportation; 
  • Writing case notes and maintaining case file documentation.

If you are in the 100-mile radius of any of the offices below, connect with the IRC office nearest to you to find out how you can get involved:

Oakland, CA | San Jose, CA | Denver, CO | Missola, MT | Wichita, KS | Salt Lake City, UT | Abilene, TX | Turlock, CA | Richmond, VA | Charlottesville, VA | Tallahassee, FL | Elizabeth, NJ 

Check back soon for details from the following offices: 

Phoenix, AZ | Tucson, AZ | San Diego, CA | Spokane, WA | Atlanta, GA 

Become a Community Partner 

Eligible groups located more than 100 miles away from an IRC local office can become Community Partners. Community Partners work directly with IRC headquarters to take on responsibilities for resettlement such as securing housing, welcoming families at the airport, providing food and other basic necessities, and connecting refugees to schooling, English classes and employment. 

As a Community Partner, you will take on the responsibility of fulfilling the requirements of the Reception and Placement (R&P) program and agree to take the lead in supporting these new arrivals in your community. Families will be assigned to your organization by IRC headquarters in collaboration with you as the community partner. While the IRC will provide technical assistance and training, your group will be coordinating and problem solving on the ground to provide for the unique needs of each arriving case. This partnership will exist for the duration of the R&P program, which is 90 days.

Services that Community Partners deliver include:

  • Securing a safe, sanitary and affordable housing unit for the family that is available for at least 6-12 months;
  • Ensuring housing is equipped with appropriate furniture and household items;
  • Welcoming the family at the airport;
  • Providing groceries and items for basic needs;
  • Connecting adults to English classes and employment services;
  • Enrolling minors in school;
  • Facilitating cultural orientation and integration services;
  • Enrolling the family in public benefits, like cash assistance, SNAP and Medicaid;
  • Connecting adult clients to employment services;
  • Conducting medical appointment follow up and transportation orientation;
  • Writing case notes and coordinating case file documentation; and
  • Assuring arrangement of interpretation services in the client’s native language.

The IRC will work with the Community Partner to provide technical assistance and training, and will support the group to ensure all R&P services are completed accurately and on time for the case. IRC staff will maintain regular contact with the Community Partner and refugee families to assist with any needs that may arise.

Steps to becoming a Reception & Placement Community Partner:

  • Attend an info session on the program to learn more about the requirements
  • Receive and complete a work plan which details your group’s plan to complete all the required services 
  • Complete a 2-page application form to be reviewed and approved by the Department of State.
  • Sign a formal agreement with IRC to be a Community Partner.
  • Participate in real time training sessions on community partner process and requirements 
  • Pass an IRC background check for each member of the group.
  • Partake in weekly check-in session with IRC staff for the duration of the service period (90 days). 

If your group is interested in applying, please email Una.Bilic [at] rescue.org to learn more and receive the application, or join us for an upcoming info session.

What is "Uniting for Ukraine?" 

Uniting for Ukraine allows eligible individuals to temporarily join a supporter in the U.S. who has offered to sponsor them for two years.This is a separate form of sponsorship than the community sponsorship offered with the IRC. 

In this program, entry into the U.S. is granted as humanitarian parole – a legal mechanism whereby the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may grant entry to individuals who are otherwise not eligible for admission to the U.S. for a temporary period for urgent humanitarian need or to serve the public interest. Under Uniting for Ukraine, DHS will grant humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis for a period of up to two years.

Sponsors must:

  • Be U.S.-based individuals in lawful status, or have parole, deferred action (such as beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), or Deferred Enforced Departure
  • Pass security and background vetting, and
  • Demonstrate sufficient financial resources to “receive, maintain, and support” the Ukrainians they commit to support for two years

If you are interested in learning more or want to apply, please visit Welcome.Us or the DHS.