Key Takeaways

  • President Biden’s February 4 executive order sets the stage for launching private refugee sponsorship programs in the U.S. 
  • Refugee sponsorship programs have seen success across the globe in improving refugee integration outcomes and directly engaging the American people in the resettlement process. 
  • Private sponsorship is a unique policy innovation to directly engage refugees with U.S. partners such as churches, charities, individual volunteers, universities, and foundations.
  • Private sponsorship programs  can be instrumental in getting the United States refugee resettlement system back on firm footing and should serve as a complement, not a replacement, to the existing resettlement infrastructure.
  • Four key considerations policymakers should keep in mind when establishing a private sponsorship pilot initiative including a flexible and complementary approach, refugee and sponsor matching potential, cost requirements and guaranteed sponsor support, and balanced monitoring and evaluation requirements

Introduction 

President Biden’s February 4th executive order to restore and expand the United States Refugee Admissions Program includes an innovative proposal the U.S. has turned to in the past to expand its capacity to leverage American generosity and extend humanitarian protection: private refugee sponsorship. Private sponsorship would allow refugees to resettle with support and funding from local community sponsors. As long-time advocates for private sponsorship programs, we are heartened to see the Biden administration include it as a complementary method to support the rebuilding of the U.S. refugee resettlement system. 

At the end of 2020, refugee admissions were at record lows. Refugee resettlement infrastructure — domestically and internationally — was more damaged than any time since the modern system was created in 1980. The Biden administration has announced plans to increase refugee resettlement, and a private sponsorship program should serve as a vital component of the larger effort of getting the resettlement system back on firm footing. 

The case for private sponsorship — that it would allow charitable Americans to pool resources and time to assist resettled refugees — is compelling. But many questions remain as to what a private refugee sponsorship program should look like in practice in 2021. 

In thinking about launching a new private sponsorship program, the U.S. can learn from three distinct sources: first, the informal sponsorship systems that operate across the country already; second, the proliferation of formal sponsorship systems around the world in recent years; and third, the original U.S. private sponsorship program from decades ago. In this policy brief, we will sketch out what a sponsorship pilot program should look like and make a case for private refugee sponsorship to complement, not replace, the existing resettlement infrastructure.

Read the full policy brief here.