The unprecedented wave of solidarity unleashed in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has opened up key opportunities to position sponsorship as a powerful and flexible emergency response tool that can rapidly expand reception capacity. This has led to the launch of innovative programs in all regions that are allowing millions of citizens around the world to welcome newcomers into their homes and support them in settling into their new communities.
Few countries offer a better illustration of this development than the United States (US), where within months of Kabul’s fall more than 80,000 Afghans had already been resettled to the US, thanks to several new initiatives, including the Sponsor Circle Program, Welcome.US and the Community Sponsorship Hub. Less than a year later, the successful use of humanitarian parole to rapidly evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans, as well as the launch of expansive infrastructure for rapid reception capacity, influenced President Biden’s decision to launch the Uniting for Ukraine (U4U), an uncapped pathway that enables US supporters to personally sponsor Ukrainians into the US. Over 100,000 people have arrived through this program with the support of sponsors, while over 200,000 U4U applications have been received. Inspired by Uniting for Ukraine, an additional program aimed at Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans launched in January 2023. Up to 30,000 individuals can be sponsored each month through this pathway.
Against this backdrop, on 19 January 2023 the Biden Administration introduced the Welcome Corps, a national private sponsorship program that represents the biggest innovation to the US resettlement system in over 40 years. The Welcome Corps will develop capacity for welcoming refugees arriving through the US Refugee Admissions Program through a matching and a naming stream. Initial targets seek to mobilize 10,000 US citizens and permanent residents to sponsor at least 5,000 refugees in 2023.
In the first phase of the program, Private Sponsor Groups will be matched to refugees selected for resettlement to the US. Later this year, the program will expand to enable private sponsors to personally identify the refugees they want to welcome and support.
It is expected that Welcome Corps will also be used as an education and labour pathway, opening opportunities for colleges and universities across the US to sponsor refugee students, and for employers to sponsor refugee professionals.
The program will be implemented by a consortium of NGOs, including the Community Sponsorship Hub, Church World Service, Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services of Connecticut, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the International Rescue Committee and Welcome.US.
The webinar was organized in the framework of EU-Passworld, a three-year project funded by the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). EU-Passworld aims at designing and piloting new programs that connect education and labour pathways with community sponsorship in Belgium, Ireland and Italy, engaging receiving communities in providing welcome and integration support to the displaced students and professionals arriving to the three countries.
This online roundtable provided an overview of the different pathways introduced in the US since 2021. It zoomed in on the Welcome Corps, providing context to its policy framework and how initial stages of the program will operate. The session also introduced key features of Welcome Corps that are highly relevant to EU-Passworld partners, such as the development of a naming stream and the use of private sponsorship as education or labour pathway.
The webinar offered a space for practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic to exchange on the opportunities and challenges that recent developments represent in their respective contexts for engaging local communities in refugee protection and integration. It was of particular interest to Europe-based actors seeking to consolidate the innovations set in motion in the context of the Afghanistan and Ukraine responses into sustainable national community sponsorship programs.
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