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US launches new refugee sponsorship program

22 December 20230 comments

The US Government has launched a new refugee program that will allow sponsors nominate specific people they want to bring to the US in an initiative intended to help families reunite and involve more everyday Americans.

The program, similar to Australia’s CRISP program and known as the Welcome Corps, will allow groups of five or more US citizens or permanent residents to recommend a person or family to sponsor if they meet certain criteria and pass background checks.

Relatives of refugees, religious groups, LGBT organizations and veterans are among groups expected to participate.

Until now, most refugees arriving  in the US have been referred by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

US President Joe Biden, who is seeking re-election in 2024, has launched a range of programs to allow migrants and people fleeing conflict or persecution to enter the US lawfully.

The US Government plans to bring in 10,000 refugees through the sponsorship program as part of an overall goal of 125,000 refugee admissions in the 2024 fiscal year.

Under US law, refugee status is reserved for people who apply from abroad while migrants already in the US can apply for asylum.

Although refugees are vetted and enter legally, some Republicans have called for tighter restrictions.

Republican former President Donald Trump, for instance, slashed refugee admissions while in office and is vowing another immigration crack down if re-elected.

A State Department official said in a media interview that Americans want to aid refugees and that sponsorships make that easier.

“This program taps into the tremendous capacity and willingness of our communities to help people arrive in safe, orderly and legal ways with the support that they need, which should appeal to any administration,” the official said.

The Biden administration first launched sponsorship program in January 2023, but those refugees were assigned to sponsors rather than chosen.

Only 85 refugees have entered through that program to date, State Department officials said, far below the goal of processing 5,000 refugees in fiscal year 2023.

But numbers have been increasing and officials expect more applicants now that sponsors can choose who they want to bring into the country.

The timeline for refugees to arrive in the US could be six months to several years, according to the Welcome Corps, and it remains unclear how many applications are pending.

To qualify under the new program, potential refugees must have been registered with the UN by September. 30, 2023, a cut-off meant to discourage people from leaving home just to participate.

Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans may apply if they qualify for refugee status and had pending sponsorship applications through a separate ‘parole’ program.