A new refugee sponsorship program the United States announced Jan. 19 is raising questions for thousands of Haitians and potential financial supporters who are in the process of filing Form 134A launched two weeks ago.
The latest immigration program, called the Welcome Corps, aims to recruit 10,000 Americans to sponsor at least 5,000 refugees in 2023. The first phase of the program applies to people whom the U.S. has already approved as refugees.
Welcome Corps is not available to regular Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Afghans or Ukrainians seeking entry to the U.S. because these groups have their own humanitarian parole process, immigration lawyers and experts said. Therefore, they urge Haitians to continue with the parole process that the Biden Administration rolled out Jan. 6.
“If a person is from the countries on the humanitarian parole program, [parole] is best to do,” Fort Lauderdale lawyer Ronald Surin said. “If not from one of those countries, they should seek sponsors to complete the Welcome Corps.”
Two weeks ago, the U.S. government announced the special process pertaining to Haitians. Both potential financial supporters and Haitians who want to come to America immediately began looking into the process. An untold number of applications have been filed.
Numerous U.S. based supporters have had such questions as how much income is required to provide support and whether the application would jeopardize other immigration programs that may affect their families, such as TPS. Would-be beneficiaries, meanwhile, have been seeking Good Samaritans to sponsor them financially for the two years mandated.
In the wake of the queries and need, the Haitian Bridge Alliance and Welcome.US joined forces to match financial sponsors with potential beneficiaries.
“To be clear, those programs will continue to exist and support those populations,” said Sophie Vaughan, a Welcome.US communications spokesperson.
One way that a Haitian person may be eligible for the Welcome Corps is if the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refers that person for resettlement, Yael Schacher from Refugees International said. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would also need to interview the person for and grant them refugee status.
“This process is opaque and likely won’t happen in large numbers for Haitians,” Nicole Phillips, legal advisor for The Haitian Bridge Alliance, said.
One key distinction between Welcome Corps and the other parole process is that the former offers a path to citizenship status, advocates say. It requires sponsors to offer support for three months. In contrast, the humanitarian parole program designated for Haitians requires sponsors to commit to two years of financial support and does not have a clear path to citizenship.
Welcome Corps basic facts
U.S. State Department officials called the Welcome Corps a “private sponsorship program for refugees.” Besides helping people fleeing terrible conditions, government officials said one goal of the program is to strengthen communities by bringing in new people.
“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,” officials said in rolling out the program.
Americans who sign up for the Welcome Corps must form private sponsor groups of at least five people to support newcomer refugees and help them integrate into American society. The group is responsible for such tasks as greeting the newcomer refugees at the airport, helping them find housing, enrolling children in school and helping adults find employment.
Sponsors must raise an initial amount of $2,275 per refugee to help them settle in during their first three months, officials said. The money can go toward fees such as security deposits, clothes or furniture. After the first three months, the refugees will become eligible for federal programs or find 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,” U.S. officials said.
The government plans to form a consortium of nonprofit groups to help manage the program, including the application process to screen, vet, approve and train sponsors.