Private Sponsorship for Afghan Refugee Families: How to Apply in the United States

The Biden administration has begun allowing individuals to sponsor Afghan refugees seeking to start a new life in the United States. Under the Sponsorship Circle Program, you and a few of your friends can pool funds to dramatically improve the prospects of an Afghan family.

It is a program that is desperately needed: the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year left many vulnerable Afghans behind. Some are now stuck at home under Taliban control, or in neighboring countries to which they have fled.

More than 75,000 Afghans have traveled to the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome, and around 52,000 of them have been resettled in communities across the country. But the rest are still waiting on US military bases – safe from the Taliban but unable to find jobs, enroll their children in school or begin to heal and overcome the trauma they have suffered.

Americans can help them resettle in a community so they can do all of these things sooner.

Forming a Sponsorship Circle involves bringing together at least five adults from your area and raising $2,275 for each individual Afghan you wish to resettle in your community. Sponsors agree to help them for the first three months, which may include finding accommodation, helping adults find jobs, and enrolling children in school.

To be clear, by forming a sponsorship circle, you are not directly allowing Afghans to enter the United States who otherwise would not be able to.

Instead, you are accelerating the resettlement process for Afghans who have already entered the United States through what is called humanitarian “conditional release” but who are stuck on military bases because the infrastructure resettlement official – decimated under the Trump administration – cannot get everyone settled right away.

Don’t underestimate the good that speeding up reinstallation can do. “Leaving a base and entering a community sooner can have a profound impact on a family,” said Elizabeth Foydel, director of the nonprofit’s private sponsorship program. International Refugee Assistance Project. “It’s the difference between being stuck in limbo for several months or really being able to start your life over again.”

That said, she added that there was another big development coming: the Biden administration is Planning in the first half of this year to launch a more comprehensive private sponsorship program – one that would allow Americans to sponsor an Afghan family to enter the United States who otherwise could not.

How to form a sponsorship circle, in 6 steps

Afghans who have been stuck on military bases for months have noticed how psychologically taxing it is to live in limbo. “I stayed at Fort Pickett [in Virginia] for 91 days and some of my colleagues are still at the fort and will probably not be out until mid-February 2022”, Ahmad Zafar Shakibi Recount CNN. “It caused a mass depression.”

Others have describe the difficulty of not having enough warm clothes to move around; being unable to access timely medical care; to feel misunderstood by the American general staff; and endure crushing boredom in their barracks or tents day after day. Like Esrar Ahmad Saber noted of his fellow refugees at a base in New Jersey, “They just want to get out as soon as possible.”

Here’s how you can help them get there.

1) Form a group of five or more adults. If you are enthusiastic about this program, you can contact four friends to start A conversation. (You can send them this page or even this article to start the conversation.)

2) Ask each member of the group to complete a background check. This is a quick online process to check if you have a criminal record.

3) Ask a member of the group to complete a Online course. This gives you some tips on how to ensure that your Sponsorship Circle will be competent and effective.

4) Complete a welcome program. You’ll want to dedicate at least a day to this, as it forces you to research the resources available in your community for needs such as job and language training.

5) Fundraise. You will need bank statements or other evidence showing that you have $2,275 per Afghan newcomer you hope to welcome.

6) Complete the application form. Once you have completed steps 1-5, it will only take 10 minutes.

That’s it! If your group is motivated, you can probably complete this process in a few weeks of intermittent work. If your application is approved, you can host an Afghan family in your community, which research suggests will likely benefit not just newcomers, but your community as a whole.

Want to sponsor Afghans for immigration to the United States? Get ready now.

If you’d rather wait for the United States to launch its more comprehensive private sponsorship program — the program that provides a pathway for immigration so more Afghans can enter the United States — it’s a good idea to start you prepare now.

It will probably require more money. Canada’s highly successful private sponsorship program, for example, requires a sponsor to raise nearly US$23,000 bring in a family of four refugees. The US equivalent of this program could easily require funds on a similar scale.

Children play with a ball while marching with a group of media and military service members at an Afghan refugee camp Nov. 4, 2021 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

You may be thinking: why should it be up to private citizens to shell out so much money to resettle refugees? This is the government’s job!

That’s a fair point. That’s why Foydel and others have advocated for all refugees who come to the United States through private sponsorship to be added to the number of traditional government-assisted resettlement cases.

“That’s what we plan for,” Foydel told me. “We think it’s important to clarify that the US government maintains its responsibility to resettle refugees itself.”

The Biden official target for fiscal year 2022 is to resettle 125,000 refugees (from all countries, not just Afghanistan). The government is unlikely to achieve this goal because refugee agencies do not have the capacity to absorb so many new arrivals. Their funding is tied to the refugee cap, and since the Trump administration cut refugee admissions – 2020 has seen an all-time low of 15,000 allowed in – agencies were forced to lay off staff and close offices. They are now in the undesirable position of having to rebuild even as they try to serve thousands of Afghans with the meager resources they currently have.

Even if the government manages to resettle 125,000 refugees this fiscal year, refugee advocates expect private sponsorship could attract thousands more.

The United States spent 20 years in Afghanistan, trying and failing to remake the country. Now the Americans no doubt have a moral responsibility to help the Afghans suffer the consequences. And given that refugee programs could get far less support if a Republican wins the White House in 2024, now is the time to shoulder that responsibility.

As my colleague Nicole Narea has written, even though the United States was right to withdraw last year, “the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is the product of ill-conceived and failed American attempts to nation building. The United States therefore has a responsibility to ensure that Afghans threatened or persecuted as the Taliban reaffirm their vision of religious law can be safe in the United States or other countries, whether or not they have worked alongside American troops.

So if you’re thinking about forming either a Sponsorship Circle or a Private Sponsorship, it makes sense to think of it not as an act of charity, but as an act of justice. Neither will completely undo the harm that has been done, but as Foydel told me, “They both have an incredible impact.”

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