Opening the Door to Palestinian Refugees from Gaza?

Under Biden's new ‘Welcome Corps’, campus protesters could bring refugees to the U.S.

By Nayla Rush on May 7, 2024

The Biden administration is reportedly considering permanently resettling Palestinian refugees from Gaza in view of the Israel-Hamas war. Palestinians who managed to flee Gaza to Egypt or other neighboring countries, as well as those who are still in Gaza would be welcomed here (in the latter case, the U.S. government would help them get out). Those with relatives in the United States would be given priority.

Under new “private sponsorship” programs, Palestinian refugees from Gaza could be selected and brought into American communities and campuses by newly resettled refugees and other newcomers – those could be family members, friends, or simply activists. As anti-Israeli protests (paired with anti-Semitic and anti-American sentiments) spread across the country, one wonders about the need for such a move. The Biden administration could be driven by humanitarian as well as political considerations.

First, Palestinians from Gaza could add to the growing dissonant voices already here. True, not all Gazans support Hamas’s actions (new polls seem to suggest a drop in that regard), but many cheered the October 7 terrorist attack against Israel. We saw images of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including children, spitting on Israeli hostages, hitting them, celebrating their capture. Do we know if one of these civilians will end up being resettled here under Biden’s new plan? Should we ask Israeli hostages who were released to see if they recognize any of them?

At a minimum, we should not forget that refugees, like any migrant group, carry with them their beliefs, values, and biases.

Second, how reliable is the vetting of refugees from Gaza? Can the U.S. government overcome the impossible task of crosschecking identification and intelligence documents with Gaza’s local authorities, meaning Hamas? The UN Palestinian Refugee Agency’s (UNRWA) staff in Gaza (who are themselves Palestinian refugees) have been accused of participating in the October 7 attack. If UN staff (who are supposed to be thoroughly vetted) were able to commit such atrocities, what should we except from civilians in Gaza?

Third, since refugees are, by definition, those who have suffered or fear persecution, is the underlying implication that Palestinians in Gaza are persecuted by Israel? And how will this precedent change war engagements and accountabilities?

Fourth, why bring Palestinian refugees to the United States instead of helping them access Arab countries in the region, many of which are already hosting millions of their compatriots? Wouldn’t that undermine Palestinians’ main demand, one on which a collective Palestinian identity is based and has been constantly reactivated and transmitted to younger generations – their “right to return”?

Private Sponsorship. Under the reported plan, Palestinians from Gaza would be admitted under the U.S. refugee resettlement program, either the traditional part of the program or the new, expanded versions that allow for private sponsorship. This gives resettled refugees access to citizenship; per U.S. immigration law, refugees are required to apply for a green card one year after arrival and can apply for citizenship four years later. Resettled refugees also have access to numerous federal benefits and services related to housing, health services, employment, cash assistance, etc., and also admission to higher education on U.S. campuses tuition-free.

Traditionally, the United States chooses the refugees it resettles almost solely based on referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, the Biden administration expanded the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) last year to allow private individuals in the United States (backed by various non-governmental organizations) to select their own refugees and future American citizens.

Under the new program called the “Welcome Corps”, U.S.-based sponsors over the age of 18 can pick their own candidates for resettlement. Sponsors do not have to be American citizens – they can be permanent residents (green card holders including those holding “conditional permanent residence”) or even newly resettled refugees or other newcomers.

The Welcome Corps started with phase one, known as the “matching phase”, allowing U.S.-based sponsors to be matched with refugees whose cases were already approved for resettlement under the USRAP. It moved to its phase two, the “naming phase”, at the end of 2023, when sponsors can select their own “refugees” for resettlement.

The Welcome Corps further expanded to include the Welcome Corps on Campus to allow for a “targeted education sponsorship initiative that enables U.S. colleges and universities to play a leading role in resettling refugee students.” While under the regular Welcome Corps, refugees are welcome into American communities, the Welcome Corps on Campus takes them straight to dorms and campuses.

Those admitted under the Welcome Corps on Campus will not be issued international student visas but will enter as resettled refugees, “putting them on track to becoming permanent residents and citizens of the United States.” They will be entitled to receive the following services and benefits: ongoing student services, financial aid, scholarships, tuition waivers, housing, basic necessities including meal plans, food allowances, personal hygiene products, furniture and household goods, seasonally appropriate clothing, a laptop and required books for studies, a phone, and pocket money.

So, under the new program created by the Biden administration, those who set up camps on campuses to denounce the Israeli war on Hamas in Gaza, and, for many, chant anti-Semitic/pro-Hamas slogans, accuse Biden of genocide, or take down the American flag could soon sponsor Palestinian refugees from Gaza to join them in their fight.

Georgetown University hosted the launch of the Welcome Corps on Campus. Georgetown is one of 149 institutions and organizations to sign a statement of support for the program.

The full list of the 149 institutions and organizations participating in the Welcome Corps on Campus is at the end of this post. Included are several campuses that have struggled with pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli protests, including Arizona State, Bryn Mawr, Cal State Fullerton, Colorado State, and many others.

Admission Numbers of Palestinian Refugees. Let’s look at the potential admission numbers of Palestinian refugees from Gaza:

The number of Palestinian refugees resettled into the United States has remained low in the past couple of decades: 2,095 in total from FY 2001 to FY 2024 (through April 2024).

So far this fiscal year (October 2023 through April 2024), 55,063 refugees were resettled here under a 125,000 ceiling set by President Biden. Of that total, only 16 were Palestinian.

This might change if the Biden administration goes forward with a targeted plan to open the doors to Palestinian refugees from Gaza. And there is room for that to happen.

The proposed FY 2024 allocation spots for refugees by region are as follows, under the overall ceiling of 125,000:

  • Africa: 30,000-50,000
  • East Asia: 10,000-20,000
  • Europe and Central Asia: 2,000-3,000
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 35,000-50,000
  • Near East (Middle East and North Africa) and South Asia: 30,000-45,000
  • Unallocated Reserve: 0

Of the 30,000-45,000 allocated spots for refugees from the Near East and South Asia, 17,534 have been filled so far this fiscal year (October 2023 through April 2024), of whom 16 are Palestinians.


The full list of the 149 institutions and organizations participating in the Welcome Corps on Campus:

African Communities Together 
Agnes Scott 
American International College 
Antioch College 
Arizona State University 
Augsburg University 
Bard College 
Bennington College 
Berkshire Community College 
Broward College 
Bryn Mawr College 
Bunker Hill Community College 
California State University Fullerton 
Carleton College 
Carnegie Mellon University 
Center for Migration and the Global City, Rutgers University-Newark 
Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies at Virginia Tech 
Central Washington University 
Cerritos Community College District 
Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) 
Church World Service 
Clovis Community College 
Colby College 
College of Saint Mary 
Colorado College 
Colorado State University 
Colorado State University Global 
Colorado State University Pueblo 
Colorado State University System 
Community Sponsorship Hub 
Connecticut State Colleges & Universities 
Contra Costa College 
Contra Costa Community College District 
Cornell College 
DePaul University 
Diablo Valley College 
Dominican University 
Eastern Connecticut State University 
Educational Testing Service 
Elena's Light INC 
Elon University 
Ethiopian Community Development Council 
Every Campus A Refuge 
Exodus World Service 
Five Together Foundation 
Foothill College 
Foothill-De Anza Community College District 
Georgetown University 
Grand Valley State University 
Guilford College 
Hamilton College 
Hello Neighbor 
Home for Refugees USA 
Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies 
Institute of International Education 
International Institute of St. Louis 
International Refugee Assistance Project 
International Rescue Committee 
IRIS – Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services 
Ithaca College 
Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) 
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA 
Lewis University 
Los Medanos College 
Louisiana Organization for Refugees and Immigrants 
Loyola Marymount University 
Loyola University Maryland 
Marymount University 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
Metro State University 
Metropolitan State University of Denver 
Middlebury College 
Middlesex Community College/MA 
Montgomery College 
Mount Holyoke College 
Mt. Hood Community College 
Muina International Solutions Inc 
NAFSA: Association of International Educators 
National Association of System Heads 
New York University 
Niskanen Center 
Northern Arizona University 
Northern Essex Community College 
Oklahoma State University 
One Refugee 
Pace University 
Pomona College 
Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration 
Queens University of Charlotte 
Rainbow Railroad 
Re-Imagining Migration 
Refugee & Migrant Education Network 
Refugee Congress 
Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) 
Refugee Welcome Collective 
Refugees International 
Rochester Institute of Technology 
Roosevelt University 
Rutgers University-Camden 
Rutgers University-Newark 
Saint Joseph's College of Maine 
Salem State University 
Salt Lake Community College 
Salve Regina University 
School for International Training 
School of the Art Institute of Chicago 
Seattle University 
Southern New Hampshire University 
St. Edward's University 
Stockton University 
Suffolk University 
SUNY Cortland 
TESOL International Association 
The University of Connecticut 
Towson University 
Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago (TTIC) 
Trinity College 
UC San Diego 
University of Michigan - Dearborn 
University at Albany, SUNY 
University of Dayton 
University of Denver 
University of La Verne 
University of Massachusetts Boston 
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities 
University of Redlands 
University of San Diego 
University of the District of Columbia 
University of Tulsa 
Virginia Wesleyan University 
We Are All America 
Welcoming America 
World Education Services 
World Learning 
World Relief 
World University Service of Canada