Community group considers sponsoring refugees to Worthington

Welcome Corps is geared to fast-track refugees, many of whom have waited years to be resettled. The goal is to welcome 5,000 refugees to the U.S. this year, the first to arrive as early as April.

Refugee resettlement
More than two dozen community residents attended a meeting Thursday evening at Kivu Immigration Law in downtown Worthington to learn about Welcome Corps and the opportunity to sponsor refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. Here, attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski (far left) talks about the Welcome Corps.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe

WORTHINGTON — An opportunity to bring refugees from sub-Saharan Africa to southwest Minnesota was the focus of a Welcome Corps meeting Thursday evening, Feb. 2, at Kivu Immigration Law in downtown Worthington.

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Kivu owner and immigration attorney Erin Schutte Wadzinski organized the event, which included a video by the U.S. State Department and community discussion about the feasibility of sponsoring refugees.

Welcome Corps is geared to fast-track refugees, many of whom have already waited years to be resettled in a safe environment. The goal is to welcome 5,000 refugees to the United States this year, the first to arrive as early as April.

Unlike asylum seekers, who typically haven’t been vetted by the U.S. government, refugees are individuals who have been forced to flee their home country based on their race, religion, political affiliation, or other reason that has put their life in danger. They are already authorized to work in the U.S. and, after being here for one year, can adjust their status to permanent resident (green card holder). After five years, the refugees are welcome to apply for citizenship.

“The individuals who come through this program … have experienced persecution — typically that persecution is done by the government or nongovernment actors while the government stands idly by,” Schutte Wadzinski explained.


Group discussion
Erin Schutte Wadzinski (center) talks with community residents about the process for sponsoring refugees during a Thursday evening meeting at Kivu Immigration Law in downtown Worthington.
Julie Buntjer / The Globe

The refugees who are waiting to relocate have already completed health screening, and are aided by the United Nations in their relocation efforts. Sponsors are needed, however, to help the refugees settle into a new community in a new country, where they may not speak the language and do not know how to rent an apartment, enroll their children in school, sign up for health insurance, get utility service and many other things that are second nature to local residents.

The Welcome Corps launched in mid-January, and the first phase in the process of welcoming refugees to a community is to go through a matching process.

“You don’t have to know a refugee to become a sponsor,” Schutte Wadzinski said, adding that in this first round of refugee resettlement, it is unlikely they will have a family connection to previous refugees who have settled in the Worthington area.

Sponsor groups must consist of at least five members ages 18 and older, and it’s recommended the group be diverse — people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and skills. The role of each sponsor group is to find and furnish initial housing for new refugees, assist the family in enrolling children in school, navigating them through the use of transportation options, connecting the family with an English learner program and helping them find employment.

“Through Welcome Corps, you will do these things and become their friend,” stated the host of the video presentation. “Newcomers need lots of friends.”

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Churches, organizations, coworkers — even book club members — can form a sponsor group. All sponsors will go through a background check, and at least one member of the group must complete an online training to be eligible.

In addition to helping the refugees get settled, sponsor groups are required to raise $2,275 per refugee, whether through cash or in-kind donations (rental unit, furnishings, etc.). The $2,275 is equal to what the U.S. government would offer to refugees who don’t arrive through a sponsorship program.

“Sponsorship can be challenging, but you’re not asked to do it alone,” the video host stated. “You will have access to … support and have an experienced organization guiding you.”


Attendees were told that sponsorships lead to friendships that can and do last a lifetime.

“Your goal will be to make the family self-reliant as soon as possible,” the host said, noting the official sponsorship is 90 days. After that, the group’s role may move from sponsorship to mentorship.

At her law firm, Schutte Wadzinski said she has helped numerous refugees transition from refugee status to permanent residency. Most rewarding is seeing those same refugees gain their U.S. citizenship, she added.

The Welcome Corps hearkens back to the 1980s, when refugees came directly from a camp to Worthington. More than 30 years later, the city is outside of refugee resettlement’s radius, meaning the only refugees coming to Worthington first settled in another city, and possibly a different state.

As attendees discussed options for forming sponsor groups Thursday evening, the discussion included getting more local people involved in the effort.

Elizabeth Briones, who works in human resources at JBS, said she could bring together small focus groups to learn more about Welcome Corps and be a source of information. It was noted that it will be important for sponsor groups to describe the make-up of Worthington in their welcome plans, as it may play a role in what country refugees come from. For instance, if there are already refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Burundi living in the community, it may be more likely that refugees from those countries would be assigned to come here.

The next step in the process is to establish support groups and write welcome plans to participate in the Welcome Corps. Individuals interested in learning more about the program can visit . For those interested in becoming involved, Schutte Wadzinski has created a survey to complete at . Forms must be completed by Feb. 10.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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