This summer, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that the worldwide refugee crisis, the worst in absolute terms since World War II, had reached a new record high. Recognizing that the refugee crisis is beyond what governments alone can handle, UNHCR has urged nations to create “privately sponsored admission schemes,” allowing the private sector to shoulder the burden of resettlement.
Many governments have heeded this call, but despite the strong philanthropic traditions among Americans, the United States has still not created such a program. There are many questions that need to be answered before the government can move forward. The most pressing is how to select the refugees for resettlement. Here are several different models for sponsorship that policymakers should consider:
1) Use the current system without an option for sponsors to select specific refugees. Except in a few rare cases (see #3 below), the State Department, UNHCR, or one of UNHCR’s non-governmental partner organizations identifies refugees in need of resettlement. While sponsors would not select the refugees that they wished to sponsor under this model, the government could, as it does when placing refugees with the nonprofits that coordinate all resettlement today, match refugees with sponsors that it felt were best suited to meet their needs. This method’s primary virtue is that it would be the simplest to administer and implement because it requires no further changes to the system.
2) Sponsors choose from a pool of refugees selected under the current system. In this version, sponsors would choose from refugees already identified under the normal refugee vetting and identification process who are designated for resettlement, based on information that the State Department already collects. This was how American sponsors selected refugees under the Reagan-era private refugee sponsorship program. Depending on the sponsorship model, this could impose new administrative costs on the agency to provide oversight of sponsors and protect against trafficking, but would create a much stronger incentive for sponsors who are interested in aiding a particular group of refugees to step forward and actually sponsor them.
3) Expand family sponsorship under the current system. The Priority 3 (P-3) family reunification program provides for a very narrow group of refugees to be “sponsored,” albeit without the financial commitment that the UNHCR model proposes. P-3 allows U.S. residents to ask the State Department to allow their family members abroad to apply directly to the U.S. refugee program. P-3 is rarely used because it is limited to certain nationalities, it applies only to U.S. residents who entered as refugees, and accepts only their immediate family members—minor children and spouses.