Refugee students have a new pathway to higher education and citizenship in the U.S.

U.S. colleges and universities are working to provide pathways for refugee students to enroll and find long-term success in the U.S. through Welcome Corps on Campus, a new education sponsorship initiative backed by the U.S. State Department, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. The first-of-its-kind program operates under the umbrella of the Welcome Corps, a State Department initiative established in January 2023 to help Americans privately sponsor refugees arriving to the U.S. through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

A minimum of five adults over the age of 18 can form Campus Private Sponsorship Groups (PSGs) with the support of institutional leadership from colleges and universities participating in the program.

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The PSGs, which may include students, faculty, and staff, must live within the college’s surrounding community and commit to establishing support networks and services for refugee students for a minimum of 12 months so students are set up for success and self-sufficiency, according to the program’s website. Those services include ensuring refugee students have financial support to cover all academic and living expenses during the initial sponsorship period of 12 months, have safe and sanitary housing at no cost to the student during the sponsorship period, receive help navigating U.S. higher education institutions, and have access to basic needs and other essential services.

A path to financial aid, careers, and citizenship

Unlike international students entering the U.S. through the F-1 visa system—who are ineligible for financial aid and can only live in the country temporarily—refugee students who participate in the Welcome Corps on Campus program have access to financial aid, are permitted to work, and are put on track to become permanent residents and U.S. citizens.

All sponsored refugee students must meet the program’s eligibility requirements, as well as USRAP’s eligibility and admissibility criteria, to be approved for refugee status and resettlement, according to Welcome Corps on Campus guidelines. The first cohort of refugee students sponsored by Welcome Corps on Campus will matriculate in fall 2024, with the program enrolling a total of 300 refugees over the first three years, The Chronicle reports.

“This is a groundbreaking opportunity to increase equity and diversity in higher education,” says Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, according to The Chronicle. The group, of which Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia is a founding member, is one of several nonprofit organizations supporting the program. “U.S. institutions are really thinking more about internationalization and asking, ‘What are we doing in response to global crises?’” Feldblum explains.

At the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced, or otherwise in need of international protection, an increase of 19 million over the previous year, according to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) data cited by The Chronicle. Although many refugees have aspirations for higher education, only 6% of all refugees worldwide have access to college.

“When refugees are displaced from their homelands, it’s a different kind of hardship,” says Elsa Núñez, president of Eastern Connecticut State University, one of 145 institutions, including Georgetown University, that signed a statement of support for the program. “They have no home, no safe haven, no certainty. This way, they will be able to say ‘I have a future.’”

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