The Rise of Private Refugee Sponsorship

After accepting very few Ukrainians fleding Russia’s brutal invasion in the beginning, US admissions to Ukraine have increased significantly in the past weeks. Part of this increase is the Uniting for Ukraine program launched by the Biden Administration. It allows individuals and organisations to sponsor Ukrainian migrants. Some believe these developments and others will signal a shift towards private refugee sponsoring. This optimism is supported by some evidence. There are some reasons to believe that current policies will not deliver on their promise.

CBS reported recently on the rapid growth in Ukrainian refugee admissions.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in April 2014, more than 100,000 Ukrainians were received by the United States within five months. President Biden had hoped that this would be the case. pledgeTemporary accommodation You are safefor those that were forced to leave as part of the largest refugee exodus since World War II, government statistics obtained by CBS News show….

Approximately 47,000 Ukrainians have come to the U.S. on temporary or immigrant visas; nearly 30,000 Ukrainians arrived under a private sponsorship program; more than 22,000 Ukrainians were admitted along the U.S.-Mexico border; and 500 Ukrainians entered the country through the traditional refugee system, the data show….

Only Ukrainians can obtain permanent residency in the United States and eventually citizenship if they have entered with an immigrant visa or the refugee admissions programme. Due to the lengthy process of interviews and vetting, these immigration paths can take many years.

The Uniting for Ukraine program was available to those who arrived in Ukraine. Launched in April to allow U.S.-based individuals to financially sponsor Ukrainians, were granted parole, a temporary humanitarian immigration classification that allows them to live and work in the U.S. for two years….

DHS launched the Uniting for Ukraine initiative in April to honor Mr. Biden’s promise. The free program has received tens of thousand of applications from U.S citizens as well other interested parties hoping to sponsor the relocation of Ukrainians (including their families).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received 92,000 applications from U.S. citizens since April 25th. According to DHS statistics, Citizenship and Immigration Services has received over 92,000 requests from U.S. citizens seeking sponsorship of Ukrainians. According to DHS statistics, more than 62,000 Ukrainians were granted travel permission to the U.S.A as of July 29. This includes the almost 30,000 people who arrived thus far.

Biden Administration released a call to proposals for a pilot program for private refugee sponsorship. It might one day be expanded into an even wider policy, which would include other than the Ukrainian refugees.

These recent actions are clearly an improvement on the poor official refugee system. It admitted just 11,411 refugees for fiscal year 2021. Despite Biden Administration promises that it will improve, following Trump’s devastation.

A July 27 Foreign Affairs Article [unfortunately paywalled, but you can get around it for free], migration policy specialist Gregory Maniatis argues that these and other moves herald a “refugee revolution” under which private refugee sponsorship will increasingly augment and overshadow traditional government-controlled refugee admissions, enabling the United States to take in more refugees at less cost, and with less opportunity for reversal by a hostile administration:

Although the State Department acts as the principal gatekeeper of the resettlement program, there are other Federal, State, and Local agencies that play crucial, but often complex, roles. A resettlement agency has to sign a cooperative agreement that is more than 100 pages long and regulates such finicky details as how many forks must be in a refugee’s kitchen…. On average, refugees are required to undergo two years of health and security vetting before they can be allowed to return home. The system’s complexity has grown to the point that even sophisticated national service and faith organizations feel frozen out….

Comparing the United States’ professionalized, narrow approach to resettlement with Canada will show you how it has affected your life. In contrast to the United States’ strict, professionalized approach to resettlement in the 1970s and 1980s, Ottawa allowed the public to sponsor refugees during the Vietnamese boatlift. This was instead of insisting that the system be run solely by government. Today, Canada welcomes about 40,000 refugees a year—which in relation to the overall population would be equivalent to some 350,000 refugees in the United States—the majority through sponsorship….

About a third (33%) of Canadians have either been part of or support a sponsor group. As a result, public backing for refugees in Canada makes resettlement untouchable—unlike in the United States, where the Trump administration nearly destroyed the system with surprisingly little resistance. A legislator can be lobbyed by refugees professionals. It is quite another if the advocates are the lawmaker’s neighbors who are volunteering their time to integrate newcomers—and who themselves are benefiting from the experience. Entire communities have been revived after deciding to systematically welcome refugees…..

The United States should make the Canadian sponsorship model the national resettlement standard—and improve on it. This process is underway. This past year has upended the outdated American resettlement system as a rush of communities of care—veterans seeking to support their displaced Afghan interpreters and allies, members of the Ukrainian diaspora, service organizations, faith groups, local governments, colleges and universities, and ordinary Americans throughout the country moved by the plight of Afghans and Ukrainians—have demanded to be part of the response to the crises. Biden’s administration has come up with innovative solutions to meet the influx of need and interest. These innovative solutions point to the development of a stronger, more community-led system for welcoming refugees into the United States.

Many of the points made by Maniatis are mine. I agree with many of Maniatis’ points. Washington PostI wrote an op-ed with Sabine El-Chidiac (Canadian refugee policy expert). In it, I argued for the United States to adopt a model system similar to Canada, but with some improvements. This approach, which we also believe would make a huge improvement to the US’s refugee admissions policy is a great idea. We think that the Uniting for Ukraine program was an important step in the right direction. Similar sentiments can be expressed for the possible pilot program to allow private refugees to enter Ukraine. I believe policies supporting Ukrainian refugees must be expanded to include those fleeing persecution and war elsewhere. This is the morally right and strategically sound thing that America should do. It will also benefit America’s economy.

Sabine and myself also stressed that the recent initiatives had serious limitations. Among them, they only allow participating migrants temporary residence and work rights (two year in the case for participants in Uniting for Ukraine). Unilateral executive policies are often easy to reverse by an even more hostile administration, much as the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policy undermined traditional refugee admissions.

Maniatis may well be right that community support will make private refugee sponsorship  harder to attack than the traditional government-controlled system. These communities might not be as opposed to an administration with a base that is more restricted and xenophobic than the rest of the population.

Legislative authorization is required for any private refugee sponsoring. Also, it will be necessary to grant permanent residency rights and work rights to those granted temporary residence. We should do more, especially for those fleeing terrible conditions, to allow them to move without any advance sponsorship. Doing so would create vast benefits for  current US citizens, as well as the migrants themselves.

There are some useful and positive steps forward in recent administration initiatives. It is not a good idea to be the enemy or the best! They have also disproved claims that the US cannot absorb a greater number of refugees.