MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. This is [Moderator]. Welcome to today’s call on the launch of the Welcome Corps. This call is on background to a senior State Department official and embargoed until it has concluded. For your information only and not for reporting, our speaker is [Senior State Department Official]. I will now turn the floor over to [Senior State Department Official] for opening remarks and then we’ll take a few of your questions. [Senior State Department Official], please, go ahead.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks so much, [Moderator]. So good morning, everybody, and thank you all for joining us. Earlier today, Secretary Blinken announced the launch of the Welcome Corps, our new private sponsorship program for refugees. The Welcome Corps is the boldest innovation that we have undertaken in our approach to refugee resettlement in over four decades.
Since 1980, the State Department has partnered primarily with nonprofit resettlement agencies to provide initial resettlement assistance to refugees who are newly arriving in the United States. But in order to strengthen and expand our country’s capacity to resettle refugees, the Welcome Corps is going to create new opportunities for everyday Americans across the country to directly support resettlement by enabling them to privately sponsor refugees from around the world through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, or USRAP, as we call it for short. The Welcome Corps builds on our country’s proud tradition of providing refuge and inviting Americans to serve as neighbors, guides, and friends to refugee newcomers as they build new lives in the United States.
Through the Welcome Corps, Americans will form private sponsor groups to support refugees and help them integrate into American society as thriving members of their local communities. The Welcome Corps will harness the enthusiasm, energy, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life who will step forward as private sponsors, including members of faith and civic groups, veterans, diaspora communities, businesses, colleges and universities, and other community groups and institutions. As Americans come together to provide a warm welcome to refugees, they will not only make a difference in the lives of the refugees they support; they will also help enrich and strengthen their own communities in the process.
Now, the Welcome Corps is distinct from the humanitarian parole programs that the Department of Homeland Security has established for Ukrainians, Venezuelans, and other specific populations. In those programs, sponsors need to show that they can support the parolees financially during a two-year parole period.
The Welcome Corps, on the other hand, will enable private sponsors to support refugees from all nationalities who are being permanently resettled in the United States through USRAP and who ultimately may – and, in many cases, I am confident will – become U.S. citizens. Private sponsors will receive guidance and support from resettlement experts throughout the process. All refugees being supported by private sponsors will be cleared through the same extensive security vetting required for all refugees admitted to the United States through USRAP.
The State Department is funding a consortium of nonprofit organizations who are experts in welcoming, resettling, and integrating refugees into U.S. communities in order to support the program. This consortium will manage the program’s infrastructure, including overseeing an application process through which private sponsors will be screened, vetted, and approved to welcome the refugees. The consortium will also provide training to the sponsors before they begin their sponsorship.
In the first year of the Welcome Corps, our goal is to mobilize at least 10,000 Americans to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least 5,000 refugees. Time and again, we have seen the generosity and hospitality of the American people to newcomers. If more than 10,000 sponsors join the Welcome Corps, we will seek to pair additional sponsors with these refugees in need.
And you can provide – you can find more information on the Welcome Corps at welcomecorps.org. And with that, I am happy to take questions.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, for questions, if you have not already done so, please press 1, 0 on your phone’s keypad. Pressing 1, 0 a second time will remove you from the queue. And one moment while we get the questions queued up.
MODERATOR: Great. Could we please go to the line of Jennifer Hansler from CNN?
OPERATOR: Ms. Hansler, your line is open. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing the call. I just have a couple questions. I know there is a minimum amount that these – or potential sponsors are required to raise, but are they continuing to help financially once their refugees are in the country, and how does that process work?
And then how many staff on these local partner organizations do you expect to be working on this? Are they staffing up in preparation for this new initiative? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So great questions, Jennifer. The – in response to the first question about whether sponsors are going to be required to provide ongoing financial support, the answer is no. The sponsors need to raise the initial amount of $2,275 per refugee in order to provide the initial support for the refugees during their first three months in the country, and that money does not go as direct cash support to the refugees. Instead, those funds are used to do things like provide security deposits for an apartment or buy winter clothing or furniture, provide the resources that the refugees need during those first three months. After that, the refugees become eligible for other federal programs, and frankly, hopefully the refugees will also have found jobs. That’s one of the things that the sponsors will be helping them with because the goal is for the refugees to become self-reliant as quickly as possible.
So the initial funding that the sponsors raise is just for those first three months, and then they will provide support and guidance and services like connecting them to schools to register their kids or showing them where the local pharmacy is, showing them what bus to take to get to work – those kinds of things. But, again, the goal is for them to become as self-reliant as possible as quickly as possible, so they pay their own way like everyone else who lives in this country. They will have access, as I mentioned, to these additional federal programs for the subsequent nine months, like, for example, some may have access to Medicare.
The second question was – I – Jennifer, I don’t remember what your second question was, but I have my colleague [Senior State Department Official Two] who’s my senior advisor here in the bureau and who’s very involved in it. And she’s signaling to me that she can take that question, so I’m going to kick this over to her. And our understanding is that anyone who answers your questions will just be referred to as a senior government official.
MODERATOR: That’s right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So I’ll kick it – I’ll kick if over to [Senior State Department Official Two] now because I literally can’t remember the other question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for your question. If I remember correctly, you were asking about the staffing capacity across the consortium organizations that we’re partnering with to support this program. There are six organizations that we are funding as part of the consortium of partners that we’re working with to support this program. Excuse me. The six organizations – organizations with dedicated expertise in resettling and integrating refugees across communities in the United States, and collectively those six organizations are either leveraging their existing staff and expertise or – and/or staffing up to support this effort.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Can we please go to the line of Ted Hesson from Reuters?
QUESTION: Hi, thank you all for holding the call. And I wanted to say in the future if you have an announcement like this, it’s greatly appreciated if the press gets a heads-up before the announcement comes rather than an early morning announcement. But my question is about oversight. Is there a way that the State Department will be able to enforce that the refugees are getting adequate housing or are not being subjected to labor abuses when they’re brought into the U.S.?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s a great question, Ted, and it’s a really important one, because obviously as we bring people into this country to begin new lives here, it’s important that we ensure that they are being treated well and respectfully and in keeping with all of our laws. The private sponsors who will be sponsoring refugees through this program are going to be subject to vetting before they’re approved to sponsor refugees, and that’s to provide for the safety and the security of the refugees just as we very carefully vet the refugees for the safety and security of the United States before they come here. So they will be subject to that initial vetting.
In addition to that, the consortium that we’ve put together to support the sponsors will provide training to the sponsors before they embark on the whole – on the whole process of sponsoring the refugees, and the consortium will also be checking in regularly – sorry, one additional step. The private sponsors have to provide a welcome plan, it’s called, where they lay out what their plan is to receive the refugees, how they’ll go about finding housing or connecting them to schools or jobs and all of these things. They’ll put together a detailed plan which the consortium will review.
And after that, the consortium will check in regularly both with the sponsors and with the refugees to make sure everything is going according to the plan. So there are many, many checkpoints, many, many failsafes, vetting – all that is part of this program to prevent any abuses. That said, I think that we are really excited about the program. We think it’s going to be really successful, and we’ve seen the way that related sponsorship programs have worked in the United States and have heard a lot of really good stories. But that’s a great question, and thanks for raising it.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Can we please go to the line of Michelle Hackman from The Wall Street Journal?
QUESTION: Hi there, [Senior State Department Official One]. Thanks for doing the call. I’m curious if you could speak to how this program will work in the longer term. I know that the target here is to recruit 5,000 refugees through the private sponsorship channel, but in the future is the idea that this will be included under the existing refugee ceiling or would it actually expand the number of refugees you’re able to resettle?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So thanks for that question, Michelle. The plan is that these – that this initiative – private sponsorship and the refugees who are resettled through this program will contribute to the overall goal that the – the target that the President has set for us of 125,000 refugees admitted per year. It’s going to take a lot of work to get to that level, and it’s going to take a lot of different initiatives, and we’re doing a lot of different things at once. This program of private sponsorship is one of the aspects of getting to the President’s target.
We have other initiatives underway for growing and modernizing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and the resettlement that we do through our traditional resettlement agency partners. Some of the initiatives that we’re doing in that regard are working on ways to speed up vetting of refugees while always maintaining the integrity and the security of vetting and the other aspects of the program.
We’re also looking to expand the types and numbers of ways that we can get refugees referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for resettlement in the United States, including we have traditionally accepted referrals from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, but we are expanding NGO referral avenues, and in the second phase of the private sponsorship program, we are going to welcome referrals by private sponsors themselves, that they can indicate which refugees they would like to apply to sponsor. And if those refugees meet all of the requirements for resettlement in the United States, and if the proposed sponsors meet all of the requirements to be part of the program, that will be – they can pair themselves up that way.
But all of these programs, all of these initiatives, have to be taken together and complement each other, and they’re all intended to reach that ambitious target that the President has set for us. So we’re doing a lot of things in parallel, but the plan is to pull all of these numbers together to get to the targets that the President has set.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Can we please go to the line of Leon Bruneau at AFP?
QUESTION: Yes, hello. Hi. Thanks for having this. A couple of questions for you. To your knowledge, is this a world first? And could you explain a little bit what this new private sponsorship program is based on? I mean, is there a precedent, another model that exists that this would be based on?
And also, could I ask you: Will there be any financial incentives for the sponsors to participate in this program, or is it just based on their own finances? Those are the two questions I have.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great questions, Leon, so thanks for those. So the first one is whether there are any global precedents for private sponsorship models, and the answer is yes, there are. The Government of Canada, the people of Canada, have been using this model for a number of years, and it’s been wildly successful there. And we are very grateful to our friends and allies in Canada who gave us a lot of advice as we were designing this program, and we’re really, really grateful to them for that.
We also have some models that we’ve used in the United States that are similar, but at the same time different from this, because we have a number of parole programs that the Department of Homeland Security has rolled out in recent months to respond to the needs of Afghans – Operation Allies Welcome as well as people fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, which was Uniting for Ukraine, and some recent announcements for parole programs for Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans.
In those programs, private Americans or legal permanent residents could sponsor people to come to the United States for a two-year parole period. And we did learn some lessons from that program. The difference with the Welcome Corps is that people arriving for refugee resettlement are coming from every country, they’re eligible to come from every country around the world, and they are coming for permanent resettlement in the United States.
But we definitely drew lessons from our Canadian allies, from their program; we drew lessons from the temporary parole programs that Homeland Security has put together recently, and those have helped inform our design of the Welcome Corps.
Your second question was whether there were any financial incentives for sponsors to do this, and the answer is no, there are not. Sponsors do this because they want to help people in need. In fact, they are required to raise funds in order to be able to sponsor the refugees, and to do that as an act of compassion, an act of welcome. There may be some instances, because this is a private-public partnership, where private philanthropy may step up to help private sponsors raise the funds needed in order to meet the requirements of the refugees. But none of the private sponsors would benefit financially in any way from resettling refugees.
That said, I am 100 percent certain that anyone who signs up for this program will benefit in many, many other ways. And we have seen and heard testimony from people, for example who participated as private sponsors for Afghans in Operation Allies Welcome, I have heard personal testimony from people saying to me: We got so much more out of this program than the Afghans; this has been such an amazing opportunity to help people in need; we’ve learned so much; we have just benefitted so much from bringing these people into our communities. And from the sense of community that was created around welcoming these refugees. We’ve seen how groups of people from faith communities or from civic organizations, Lions Clubs, rotary clubs, have all come together to support these new arrivals.
One of the most touching things I saw – and I’m sorry I’m going on a bit, but I get enthusiastic about this. But one of the most touching things that we saw about the effort to welcome Afghans to the United States is that one of the groups that stood up in greatest numbers were people who had arrived themselves as refugees. So Vietnamese boat people have really stood up in very big numbers to welcome Afghans and really saying that they feel a need to pay it forward.
So will they benefit financially? Absolutely not. Will they benefit in other ways? Absolutely so.
MODERATOR: Fantastic, thank you so much. We’ve got time for one final question, and that will go to – and apologies if I’m mispronouncing this – Jamin Anderson at Radio Asia.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, it’s Jamin. Thank you for taking my question. So I assume that many of the refugees who will benefit from this program will probably be from like countries like Afghanistan and Ukraine, right, especially this year. But I was wondering if this program include North Korean refugees waiting to receive U.S. refugee status in a third country. And also, will this program make any changes to the refugee screening process, maybe expediting the process? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, Jamin, for those questions. So the first – in response to your first question, who will benefit, this program is intended to benefit refugees from all over the world, anyone who is already within the pipeline of cases referred for resettlement to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, regardless of the country that they come from. And there may be Ukrainians, there may be Afghans, but we certainly anticipate seeing people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or from Burma who would be the beneficiaries of this program. If there are people from North Korea within that pipeline, they certainly could benefit from being received and resettled in the United States through private sponsorship.
And in terms of whether this program will help to speed – or sorry, whether this program will change the requirements for refugee resettlement, the answer to that is absolutely not. Every refugee who we are admitting into the United States goes through a rigorous screening process of biographic and biometric screening, and there are very, very careful safeguards that we have in place. In fact, refugees arriving to the United States are the most highly vetted individuals who we admit to this country. Those requirements will remain the same, whether they are coming through traditional resettlement routes or whether they are coming through private sponsorship.
And I think you had asked whether we will be speeding up refugee resettlement or – excuse me – refugee processing, and the quick answer to that is we are working on that too, through a number of other means, trying to speed up processing while maintaining the integrity and safety of the process and looking to clear out pipeline cases from the past. But the requirements remain the same.
MODERATOR: Great. That, unfortunately, is all the time we have for questions. But I’d like to turn it over to our speaker for any final concluding remarks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So thank you all so much. We’re really excited about this program. We think it’s a big deal. We think that it’s an opportunity for Americans across the country, from every walk of life, from every faith tradition or non-faith tradition, from schools, from civic organizations, and everywhere across the country, including in places where we don’t already have resettlement avenues – we think it’s an amazing opportunity.
And in order to capitalize on this amazing opportunity, we have created an amazing website, and I invite you to visit it. It’s welcomecorps.org. There’s a ton of information there that I think will answer any questions we didn’t get to cover today. But thank you all so much for joining us, and please, please help us spread the word.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you to our speaker. That concludes today’s call. As a reminder, today’s call was on background and all speakers on the call should be attributed as senior State Department officials. This call has been embargoed until its conclusion, which of course is now. Thank you all so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.
originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS