The US is launching a pilot program to enable private sponsorship for refugees from around the world

washington — The Biden administration on Thursday will announce a pilot program that will allow groups of American citizens to financially sponsor resettlement refugees Fleeing war and violence around the world, three people briefed on the announcement told CBS News.

The State Department initiative, which will be called the Welcome Corps, could pave the way for a sea change in US refugee policy, as most of the refugees brought to the US in recent decades have been resettled by nine non-profit organizations, receive federal funds.

Under the program, which is modeled after a long-standing system in Canada, groups of at least five US residents could have the opportunity to sponsor refugees if they raise $2,275 per refugee, pass background checks and submit a plan how they will help newcomers, the sources said.

Approved private sponsors will play the role of traditional resettlement agencies, helping newly arriving refugees access housing and other basic needs such as food, medical care, education and public services to which they are entitled.

The Biden administration initially said it would launch the program before the end of 2022. However, in a statement in late December, the State Department said the schedule had shifted. During the first phase of the program, officials will match sponsors with overseas refugees who have already been granted entry permits into the United States

“Later, through the pilot program, we will introduce an identification component that will allow private sponsors to identify refugees abroad who are to be referred to the (US refugee program) and apply to support their resettlement as private sponsors,” das said State Department in its December statement.

The Welcome Corps initiative will be the Biden administration’s latest effort to expand legal immigration channels for refugees and migrants with family members and others in the United States willing to provide them financial support.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of 2021 permitted “Circles of sponsors” of at least five private individuals to sponsor some of the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees who were resettled in the US following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Then, in early 2022, officials launched a program that would allow Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion of their homeland to come to the US under the Humanitarian Parole Board if they had US-based sponsors. More than 100,000 Ukrainians have come to the US under the policy, federal statistics show.

Officials have since expanded this approach, allowing US residents to sponsor the entry of citizens from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to discourage migrants from those countries from crossing the southern border illegally. Migrants from these countries, like Ukrainians, are temporarily allowed to legally live and work in the United States through the parole board.

Unlike those arriving under parole, the refugees arriving under the sponsorship initiative announced Thursday are eligible for permanent legal status and ultimately U.S. citizenship as they are processed through the traditional refugee program.

Officially established in 1980, the US refugee program has provided a safe haven to more than 3 million refugees fleeing conflict, ethnic persecution and other forms of violence. Refugees go through a year-long process of interviews, security clearances, and medical exams before arriving in the United States

While President Biden has vowed to rebuild the US refugee system, which has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and drastic Trump-era cutbacks, his administration has done so fought Bringing refugee admissions back to pre-pandemic levels and meeting its ambitious resettlement targets.

In fiscal 2022, the US took in 25,465 refugees, occupying just 20% of the 125,000 refugee slots allocated by Mr. Biden. In the first three months of fiscal 2023, for which Mr. Biden again set a goal of taking in up to 125,000 refugees, the US resettled fewer than 7,000 refugees, State Department figures show.

While the pandemic temporarily suspended refugee admissions and slowed refugee interviews, the program was drastically scaled back on political directives from President Trump, who argued that refugees pose an economic, national security and cultural threat to the United States

The Trump administration cut refugee intakes, allocating an all-time low of 15,000 places in fiscal 2021. It also restricted the categories of those who could be resettled and sought to give states and cities a veto on refugee resettlement. The Trump restrictions and record-low caps prompted the nonprofits relocating refugees to lay off staff and close offices across the country. The US is launching a pilot program to enable private sponsorship for refugees from around the world

Rick Schindler

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