The United States should launch a privately funded refugee resettlement category for fiscal year 2017. The idea is simple: Americans ought to be allowed to increase the number of refugees admitted to the country by donating to cover the costs of admission. With more refugees worldwide right now than at any time since World War II, the United States has a responsibility to increase our humanitarian admissions.
The question now is how the United States would implement a private program. There are four models that would accomplish the goal: upfront funding, reimbursement, services, and a hybrid model. This post will explore each option, all of which are further expanded in our regulatory comments to the State Department from last month.
Currently, there is no way for the private sector to contribute to increasing refugee resettlement admissions. There also is no mechanism for the State Department to take into account this sort of potential giving when developing their admission targets for the next year. Both constrain the U.S. admissions program from operating at a larger capacity.
Here are four ways to change that.
The first is the upfront funding model. This is the most straightforward approach, and would allow for the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and USCIS to create accounts into which philanthropists can donate to fund further resettlement. Each agency would create a threshold amount needed to fund a single admission.
New admissions for the next fiscal year would be triggered once contribution totals reach that threshold. The federal government and the states would continue to provide the refugee services they currently offer.
But the key is that more contributions would unlock higher admissions, providing a powerful incentive for philanthropists, foundations, and humanitarian groups to give generously.
The second is the reimbursement model. Under this arrangement, the State Department could allow the nine voluntary agencies to provide reimbursements for the costs of benefits that each refugee receives.
This parallels one aspect of the arrangement that the sponsoring organizations had under the Reagan Administration’s Private Sector Initiative. Under that privately funded refugee program, sponsors were required to reimburse “governments for any assistance the refugee may receive.” That program’s relevant authorities under the Immigration and Nationality Act have not changed, providing the legal basis for privately funded refugee programs today.
This model, like the upfront funding approach, would also not entail major changes to the refugee program and so could be easily implemented.
The third is the services model, which would require the voluntary agencies or other sponsors to submit a plan prior to admission that details how they would provide services for refugees in lieu of federal assistance. Sponsors would be required to submit evidence of financial resources needed to implement the plan—similar to the plans the State Department rely on from the voluntary agencies today. Under this model, no funds would need to be transferred to the federal government.
While this model would require additional oversight, ORR’s matching grant program already enlists private partners to aid refugee integration under similar circumstances. Refugees who agree to participate in the program forego public cash assistance in order to participate in an intensive program to obtain self-sufficiency.
Under this version, the State Department could obtain the agreement of refugees to participate in a private sponsorship program prior to admission to the United States. It could also require that voluntary agencies or other sponsors submit a similar plan along with evidence of the financial means to implement the plan, without providing funding, before triggering a new admission.
The fourth model is a hybrid. It would combine various elements of the three models above. Some services could be provided privately without federal funding, while others would be provided federally with private reimbursement or upfront funding. Some money could be required upfront, while others could be reimbursed.
For example, the voluntary agencies could provide cash assistance raised from the account proposed above without a transfer to the government, while medical assistance could be pre-funded to the government.
It’s important to note that the State Department and the Office of Refugee Resettlement may legally accept gifts and use them to carry out their congressionally authorized activities. Therefore, contributing to such agencies to increase the resettlement program is already legal.
Assistant Secretary Anne Richard, the head of Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, has said that she wanted to see “more foundation, private giving; more public involvement,” and concluded that “a very complex crisis like we’re seeing right now requires sort of an all- hands-on-deck.”
A privately funded program that grows America’s resettlement capabilities is one of the few ways to incentivize private sector giving and accomplish that objective. Not all refugee advocates may agree on which model is best, but introducing more private sector resources and furthering private sector engagement will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the American refugee program.