Give Biden Credit for Bolstering Private Refugee Resettlement

Uniting for Ukraine, a program providing private support to displaced Ukrainians, has proved more effective than the government's own resettlement efforts.


In April, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees out of the millions who have fled their country since Russia invaded last February. But visa backlogs and processing inefficiencies in federal immigration agencies meant there were few existing migration pathways that offered Ukrainian refugees quick and effective escape routes.

In response to concerns about the refugee logjam, Biden announced Uniting for Ukraine, a program that allows private organizations and individuals to apply for the chance to financially support displaced Ukrainians and help them integrate into their communities. Sponsored Ukrainians may stay and work in the U.S. for two years.

As of late July, nearly 30,000 Ukrainians had come to the U.S. through Uniting for Ukraine. By comparison, the federal government resettled just over 11,000 refugees in all of fiscal year 2021. At a time of sudden mass displacement, a decentralized volunteer program has proven to be a better system for refugee resettlement than centralized government planning.

Canada, which has allowed private refugee resettlement since 1979, offers a good case study. Research from the Niskanen Center, a D.C.-based think tank, indicates that 70 percent of privately sponsored refugees in Canada secured employment within a year of arriving, compared to 40 percent of government-sponsored refugees.

These favorable results come from giving private citizens a stake in the success of the refugees they sponsor. Since individuals and organizations are financially responsible for refugees, they have "an incentive to quickly find them employment and economic independence," the Migration Policy Institute noted in a 2021 report on Canada's system.

While refugees who arrive through government-led pathways often enter communities as strangers, privately sponsored refugees arrive knowing the people who have volunteered to help them. Sponsors can harness their local knowledge to connect new arrivals with job opportunities, friends, and social activities.

In a February 2021 executive order, Biden listed private refugee resettlement as a priority for his administration's immigration policy. He deserves credit for recognizing that refugees benefit when the government unleashes the enthusiasm and financial resources of private citizens.