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This World Refugee Day, Here’s How Everyday Americans Can Help

Update: Near the end of 2023, the Welcome Corps program began allowing qualified groups in the U.S. to sponsor a specific refugee they identify for resettlement. 

Earlier this month, moviegoers packed into a small-town Massachusetts cinema to watch a documentary about what was happening more than 2,000 miles away at the nation’s southern border. What they witnessed was a montage of suffering, as described by the people experiencing it.  

At a Mexican encampment, Nancy and her two kids, Andrea and David, explained that they were waiting indefinitely in squalor for even the opportunity to seek protection across the border in the United States, as was their legal right.   

Raisa and Martine had fled persecution and death threats in Cameroon, only to wind up stranded in Tijuana.  

And then there was Gisselle, a bright-eyed young woman from Honduras who had lost both her legs in a train accident while making the trek north, trying to reunite with her mother.  

Theirs were just a handful of the testimonials from asylum seekers in the film, “Las Abogadas.” And realistically, the documentary could only scratch the surface of what people fleeing violence and instability endure daily in their search for refuge. Yet by the time the credits rolled, Nancy, Andrea, David, Raisa, Martine and Gisselle — and the stories of trauma and resilience they shared — clearly had struck a chord with audience members. One wondered aloud, “What can we do to help?” 

This World Refugee Day on June 20, during a year when a record 110 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced from their homes, there’s a clear answer to that question. Right now, individuals across the United States have an unprecedented opportunity to help someone escaping harm.   

We may even be able to offer the greatest gift of all — a pathway to safety.  

Since April 2022, the Biden administration has established several private sponsorship programs as lifelines for those in need of humanitarian assistance: the Welcome Corps for refugees and new parole processes for people from certain countries. Some of these initiatives focus on our hemisphere, responing to failing autocratic regimes nearby. Others look beyond the Americas to protect people worldwide whom war and persecution have forcibly displaced. Each of these programs has unique parameters, with one unifying thread — they all offer a way to provide potentially lifesaving support.  

What Is Private Sponsorship? 

Amid myriad policies that have made it more difficult — and more dangerous — for people to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration has not always lived up to its promise of building a fair and humane immigration system, especially for those fleeing danger.  

But the sponsorship programs stand out as a major bright spot: In response to specific humanitarian emergencies as well as a growing refugee crisis around the globe, federal officials have opened innovative ways for communities across the nation to welcome newcomers.   

In short, private sponsorship means access to a legal pathway, the significance of which becomes clearest when juxtaposed with the absence of viable alternatives. The U.S. immigration system is deeply broken, and many of those needing humanitarian assistance today have been categorically boxed out of existing visas to get here, even when they’re coming to reunite with family and/or want to contribute to key industries that are suffering chronic labor shortages.  

The new programs are also meant in part as a pressure release for people who otherwise would travel to the U.S.’s southern border and seek asylum because it might be the only meaningful shot they have at entering and living here legally. Sponsorship can help migrants avoid the extreme dangers of such a journey, which often involves unfathomable adversities such as hiking though deadly jungles, riding atop a life-threatening train and living at the whims of smugglers and persecutors who see people migrating as easy prey for violence and extortion.  

Now, it’s on us to be a part of this safe, orderly alternative.  

Private sponsorship represents a chance to support another human being in their journey to peace and stability. Some of this support is financial, but much of it goes deeper. Sponsors are there to greet newcomers at the airport, help them get settled and generally build a community. They are the U.S.’s welcome committee and ambassadors for the integration process.  

Sponsors and newcomers  — including those who begin as strangers — have an opportunity to build long-lasting relationships bolstered by the life-affirming experiences they share. Here’s a basic overview of the current private sponsorship opportunities in the U.S.  

A Pathway for Refugees: The Welcome Corps 

The U.S. has a long tradition as a land of welcome, and American voters overwhelmingly support providing refuge for those fleeing serious persecution and torture. But in recent years, operational challenges have hindered the federal government’s ability to effectively resettle refugees, causing the U.S. to falter regularly on its humanitarian goals and values.  

For instance, for the current fiscal year, President Joe Biden determined that the U.S. should admit as many as 125,000 refugees for resettlement. But eight months in — and despite an uptick in recent months — the administration had resettled only 31,797, and we might end up reaching about half of the annual limit. That’s a vast improvement from the past few years, but it still would represent tens of thousands of missed opportunities, with severe consequences for people anxious to reach safety and start rebuilding their lives. 

The Welcome Corps, which the Biden administration announced back in January, is meant to be a power boost to the U.S.’s capacity to resettle refugees by allowing American citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor them directly.  

During the Welcome Corps’ initial phase, volunteers are assigned refugees eligible for resettlement, many of whom will come from sub-Saharan Africa. Soon, sponsors will also have the option to identify specific individuals they wish to support, who will then be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for consideration.  

To participate in the Welcome Corps, volunteers must first form groups of at least five adults who live in the same area and, together, raise a minimum of $2,375 per refugee they plan to resettle. Once a newcomer arrives, sponsors commit to supporting them during their initial 90 days here by welcoming them at the airport, finding them affordable housing, enrolling children in school and providing other hands-on help.  

The Welcome Corps is one of the Biden administration’s more regimented private sponsorship programs, with detailed guidance for success. It offers a clear pathway to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for those who are resettled — the explicit opportunity to stay long-term. 

For more on the Welcome Corps, go to WelcomeCorps.org or Welcome.US/become-a-sponsor/what-is-the-welcome-corps. 

A Pathway for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans  

Crippled economies, political instability and natural disasters have left Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela in turmoil in recent years, exacerbating an ongoing mass exodus.  

As a result, people from these countries increasingly have traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in search of asylum, many through the treacherous Darién Gap jungle between Colombia and Panama.  

To preempt these dangerous journeys, the Biden administration announced in October that it was creating a program for Venezuelans to come to the U.S. legally via commercial air if they could secure a U.S.-based sponsor. Then, in January, that private sponsorship process was expanded to Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, with 30,000 monthly advance travel authorizations now available for the four nationalities combined.  

American citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, asylees, refugees and people with Temporary Protected Status, parole, deferred action or Deferred Enforced Departure are all potential sponsors as long as they commit financial support. Volunteers are also expected to help newcomers navigate basic logistics like housing, school enrollment and paperwork.  

Beneficiaries, in turn, must be coming to the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit, pass mandatory vetting and meet a number of other criteria. If approved, they will be able to fly directly to the U.S. and receive up to two years of “parole,” allowing them to live here legally and apply for work authorization.  

For many Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans, the private sponsorship pathway may be their best — or only — chance of escaping the unlivable conditions at home and reaching safety in the U.S. Once here, those eligible for asylum or other immigration avenues will have the opportunity to apply for a more permanent legal status.  

Already, more than 1.5 million requests have been submitted to sponsor those in need, a tremendous outpouring of support from the American people that has dwarfed the administration’s current 30,000-person monthly quota. But about half of would-be sponsors’ applications selected for consideration each month are randomly chosen through a lottery system, so supporters who submit requests now may still be able to help a vulnerable individual access safety through a relatively quick process.  

Find out more about sponsorship at Welcome.US/Welcome-Connect. And for more information on these parole processes, go to USCIS.gov/CHNV 

A Pathway for Ukrainians: Uniting for Ukraine  

Millions have fled Ukraine since Russia’s unprovoked invasion last year, as mass casualties and protracted fighting have rendered the nation all but inhospitable. Many have stayed in Europe. But some have ventured farther, including to the U.S., where a sizable Ukrainian diaspora already exists.  

After Ukrainians started arriving en masse at the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking humanitarian aid, the Biden administration announced in April 2022 that it would create a new program called Uniting for Ukraine. Under the initiative, Ukrainians fleeing the conflict could reach the U.S. and stay legally for up to two years if able to secure a U.S.-based supporter.  

The parameters for this program are largely the same as those for the parole processes involving Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians. But Uniting for Ukraine has no numerical limits, meaning the largest factor restricting its use is the availability of willing sponsors.  

To connect with Ukrainians actively seeking supporters to reach the U.S., go to Welcome.US/Welcome-Connect. For more on Uniting for Ukraine, go to USCIS.gov/ukraine 

A Nation of Welcome  

U.S. voters overwhelmingly agree that welcoming newcomers is an American value. Many of us want to help those fleeing violence and persecution, but sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly how to do so, especially in communities far from major immigration hubs.  

Enter the Biden administration’s private sponsorship programs. These new initiatives, though mostly limited in scale, are not just good policy — they’re also an opportunity for everyday Americans to do extraordinary good.  

For those who are able, providing a pathway to safety and stability may be one of the single most impactful ways to influence someone else’s life for the better. And, in doing so, sponsors also are supporting the future of our nation. Refugees and humanitarian parolees are key contributors to the U.S., mitigating labor shortages, bolstering U.S. entrepreneurship, and often becoming essential members of our communities.  

This World Refugee Day, how can we help? Consider becoming a sponsor. 

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