Since this summer, the Niskanen Center has been leading efforts to establish a privately-funded refugee category in order to boost resettlement numbers. In September, I wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal outlining the idea and explaining its success in Canada. Privately-funded refugee resettlement can save the lives of thousands of refugees, at lower costs to the government, while producing better outcomes. A number of organizations and individuals have endorsed the general concept of privately-funded resettlement, including:

  • Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Immigration
  • Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Committee
  • Peter Southerland, United Nations Special Representative to the Secretary General for International Migration
  • The Economist Magazine
  • Susan Martin, Donald G. Herzberg Professor of International Migration at Georgetown University, in Fortune.
  • Alex Nowrasteh, Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute, in the Washington Post
  • Katy Long, Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies, on CNN
  • Steven Meurrens, partner at Larlee Rosenberg LLP in Canada, for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)
  • John Sewell, the former Mayor of Toronto, who called the idea “absolutely brilliant” in the Huffington Post. 
  • George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundations, said, “private sponsorship of refugees can pay tremendous dividends.”

Before the Syrian refugee crisis became a major policy conversation in the U.S., scholars were documenting the need for private refugee sponsorship as a means to increase resettlement numbers worldwide.

This includes, most importantly, in 2014 when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called upon states to utilize “privately sponsored admission schemes” as an innovative way to increase opportunities for those in need. Others include:

In addition, in fall 2015, Syrian, Turkish, Muslim, and Arab organizations sent a letter to President Obama endorsing privately-funded refugee resettlement. Those organizations include:

In the Huffington Post article that broke the story, Omar Hossino of the Syrian American Council said, “Every single day we get phone calls from Americans who want to privately sponsor a refugee. But the government doesn’t permit that.” Advocates of using private funds to boost refugee numbers are simply asking for the opportunity to extend the reach of American philanthropy to those fleeing persecution and violence worldwide. It’s absurd for the government to stand in the way, and create a ceiling for American generosity.

A petition that calls for private sponsorship and cites Niskanen Center’s work has garnered more than 15,500 signatures and counting. 

In addition to those listed above, the following groups have endorsed the concept of privately-funded resettlement outside the U.S.:

  1. Refugee Council of Australia, an umbrella group of 200+ resettlement organizations in Australia, in a 2015 report wrote, “There remains significant interest in and support for the introduction of a private or community [refugee] proposal program.” 
  2. Amnesty International Canada included private sponsorship of Syrian refugees as part of eight key steps Canada must take to alleviate the suffering. They wrote, “the impulse for which has erupted so naturally and generously across the country needs to be well supported and the many barriers that slow it down have to be lifted.”
  3. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a September 2015 letter, wrote to national political leaders and urged them to “expand, accelerate, and facilitate private sponsorship of refugees during this time of urgent need.”
  4. LifeLine Syria, a Toronto-based refugee resettlement organization that works to bring privately-sponsored refugees to Canada, wrote positively about private resettlement efforts being made in the U.S. Those efforts are led by the Niskanen Center.
  5. The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, in a 2006 report, recommends a private sponsorship scheme as a compliment to a public-funded resettlement program.
  6. The International Rescue Committee, Amnesty International, Save the Children, and five other international aid organizations, in a letter to top European leaders, criticized member states who have not significantly aided refugees, including not opening up slots for private sponsorship.

For more information on privately-sponsored refugee resettlement, check out my Wall Street Journal piece, Elise Foley’s Huffington Post article, Michael Matza’s Philadelphia Inquirer piece, and Sebastien Malo’s Thomson Reuters feature article from this month. 

You can also watch Niskanen’s David Bier discuss Syrian refugees and private sponsorship on Fox Business Network here.

If you want to get involved in this initiative, please email Niskanen Center’s Director of Immigration Policy, David Bier, at