LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – The Office of Global Michigan (OGM) is currently on the lookout for individuals with compassion and empathy and who would be willing to partake in the sponsorship of refugees through the federal government’s expanded Welcome Corps program.

After what they call a successful first year, the OGM is encouraging everyday Michiganders to take advantage of the new option to support a refugee or refugee family of their choosing.

New options for volunteer sponsors comes from federal government program.

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The initiative, which come out of the federal government’s Welcome Corps, aims to enlist support for refugee families from around the world who are seeking freedom through the CHNV (Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans), Uniting for Ukraine and the Welcome Corps.

The website for the Office of Global Michigan describes themselves as a department that works to make Michigan welcoming and inclusive. In alignment with this overarching goal, their office takes the lead in “advancing equity and inclusion initiatives throughout the state, including spearheading programs for the integration of newcomers.”

Why is Michigan government promoting the refugee resettlement program?

Poppy Hernandez, Director of Global Michigan and Michigan’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, underscores the pivotal role that programs like the Welcome Corps play in advancing the organization’s mission and says, “Programs like the Welcome Corps advance the Office of Global Michigan’s mission to make Michigan the home for opportunity for our immigrant, refugee and ethnic communities.”

Hernandez highlights the expanded pathways for refugee resettlement as empowering more Michiganders to assist the state’s burgeoning refugee population.

Hernandez explains in a press release about the expanded program, “Expanded refugee resettlement pathways empower more Michiganders to support our state’s growing refugee population and build a more welcoming and inclusive Michigan for all.”

Private sponsor groups in Michigan can help settle refugees – but need lots of preparation.

In their endeavor to strengthen the connection between refugees and their support networks, the Welcome Corps has recently introduced a new option for “Private Sponsor Groups.” This new feature enables these groups to identify a specific refugee or refugee family overseas and submit applications to sponsor their resettlement.

According to the State of Michigan, sponsors are expected to provide support to newly arrived refugees for 90 days. They explain that the support is a “big responsibility” that requires “preparation and research.” They suggest sponsors research the services and start preparing before submitting an application.

What kind of support do volunteers need to commit to?

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This volunteer support, according to the Welcome Corps, includes: greeting refugee newcomers at the airport, securing and preparing initial housing, enrolling children in school or child care, helping adults find employment, securing financial support (min. $2,425 per refugee through cash or donated materials or services), helping secure basic necessities (furniture, clothing, baby items, household goods, food assistance), securing essential documentation, securing benefits and services, securing health and mental services, helping to access transportation, assisting in English classes and more.

A full accounting of the sponsor support that the Welcome Corps is requesting can be found here.

Who is paying for refugee resettlement resources?

Sponsors will receive technical support from Private Sponsor Organizations (PSO), which offer hands-on guidance to sponsors and refugees throughout their sponsorship journeys.

PSOs represent a diverse range of local, state and national organizations with expertise in refugee resettlement, ranging from traditional non-profit resettlement agencies as well as grassroots community organizations.

What “refugees” qualify for program?

In order to be resettled in the United States, according to the Welcome Corps, all refugees must be approved through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Conflicting information on asylum seekers in regard to the volunteer program is present on the federal government’s Welcome Corps website. On one page, they say they can’t connect asylum seekers with private sponsors for the program. However, another page on the website says that a participant in the program can be an asylum seeker registered on or before September 30, 2023 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or by the government country where they live (outside their home country).

As a private sponsor group, specific refugee individuals or families overseas volunteers wish to sponsor can be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for consideration to be resettled into the United States. These refugees can be of any nationality and must meet the definition of a refugee under U.S. law and program eligibility criteria.

Refugees available for sponsorship must be 18 years or age or referred by a biological parent or legal guardian. The refugees sponsored must also all live in the same household once resettled.

Sponsors will be thoroughly vetted before accepted into program.

Interested sponsors who want to participate in the Welcome Corps program must form a private sponsor group which consists of at least five members over the age of 18 who live in the same or nearby community where the sponsored refugee(s) will be resettled.

The sponsor groups will need to complete an application process to participate in the Welcome Corps. They will be vetted and approved to ensure they are able to “effectively provide” initial resettlement assistance and basic services.

Included in the vetting of the sponsors includes background checks and providing to the Welcome Corps a detailed plan that outlines how they will fulfill their responsibilities to support the refugee/s and they must also agree to a code of conduct.

Volunteer sponsors will also need to complete a survey to identify local resources and their capacity to welcome the refugees. This includes information on the languages they speak and connections to support groups with people from the refugee’s original home country.