I wrote recently about the declining population and labor shortage in Maine’s towns. In recent years, Maine has not seen a significant influx of refugees through traditional resettlement methods due to the Muslim ban and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite President Biden’s promise to resettle 125,000 refugees in the United States in fiscal year 2022 through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, this target was not met, with only 25,465 refugees resettled through the program. As a result, Maine continues to experience a shortage of people coming into the state.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth. He can be contacted at [email protected]

But there is some good news for those who want to help resettle refugees in Maine. President Biden’s government recently launched the Welcome Corps program, an innovative solution that can address the population and labor shortage in Maine’s towns. It involves private sponsorship of those with legal refugee status currently based outside their home countries. It is similar to a program already running in Canada.

Private sponsorship is an experience I personally have. The travel ban closed the doors of U.S. resettlement to my brother. He had been a refugee for 15 years when he received an email from the State Department, without any explanation, telling him that “all avenues had been exhausted.” We formed a private sponsorship group with Canadian friends, and now my brother, his wife and three children live, work and study in Toronto.

The Welcome Corps program enables American citizens or permanent residents to do the same thing we did to get my brother to North America. A group of at least four people in the U.S. can sponsor refugees for resettlement in their own communities. To be eligible, the sponsor group members must be 18 or older, must reside in or expect to reside in the community of resettlement, must be capable of demonstrating their ability to provide core sponsorship, and must raise up to $2,275 for each person sponsored.

This is when we need leadership and guidance from Maine immigrant leaders and nonprofit immigrant organizations. They can play a vital role in encouraging Mainers to get involved in the Welcome Corps program. Many of the Maine immigrants have family members still in refugee camps with legal refugee documents, but some may not know or understand the steps to take to bring their family members here.

Getting involved in the Welcome Corps program is straightforward and easy to understand. Friends can form a sponsorship group. Each member must complete a mandatory background check, and one member must complete an online training course. During phase one, which is expected to launch in the next couple of months, we may see the first refugee arrive through the program. And Maine needs to be in the lead because we need more people in this state to help with the labor shortage and shrinking population.

In mid-2023, phase two of Welcome Corps will open more opportunities for refugee students overseas and provide colleges in Maine with the opportunity to sponsor refugee students. This program will also introduce new initiatives for universities and labor-based private sponsorship of refugees.

I believe we can all agree that the declining Maine population is not good for the state’s economic growth. Research suggests that welcoming refugees benefits our communities as a whole.  The Welcome Corps initiative presents a valuable opportunity for Maine.

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