Georgetown University hosted the first public event of a recently established U.S. State Department program that aims to support refugee students in their pursuit of higher education and resettlement in the United States on Sept. 12.
The program, Welcome Corps on Campus, combines access to higher education, permanent residency and a route to citizenship for foreign students. Georgetown is one of 149 universities and organizations around the U.S. to sign a statement expressing support for the program.
The public launch of Welcome Corps on Campus in the Copley Formal Lounge convened government representatives, refugee student advocates, campus leaders and experts in higher education like Georgetown University President John DeGioia and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes.
Attendees heard from speakers and panelists on how U.S. colleges and universities can enrich their campuses by sponsoring refugee students through Welcome Corps on Campus.
Julieta Valls Noyes, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said that the program, which matches participating institutions who can apply to sponsor online with refugee applicants, seeks to help refugee students navigate building a life in a new country.
“Welcome Corp on Campus sponsor groups will provide a warm welcome and a soft landing for these refugee students,” Noyes said at the event. “Sponsors will help them navigate the US higher education system, enrolling in classes, improve their English language skills, obtain critical documentation, access community services, find jobs and internship opportunities and participate in campus life, all while they pursue their education.”
Georgetown University President John DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) is a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a group of higher education leaders working together to implement the program. DeGioia emphasized the importance of college and university campuses and administrations to the success of the program.
“With the Welcome Corps on campus, we realize a new way to advance our shared mission welcoming refugee students to our campuses,” DeGioia said at the event. “In accompanying them, we recognize a new opportunity to strengthen and expand the role of education in service to the common good.”
The Welcome Corps on Campus looks to sponsor the first cohort of refugee students in the Fall 2024 semester.
Miriam Feldblum, the co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance, said efforts to create the program began in 2021 when the U.S. government announced that it would support sponsorship initiatives for the first time. The efforts included gathering over 60 institutions, resettlement leaders and students to pitch the initiative to the State Department in Spring 2021, according to Feldblum.
“In spring of 2021, we brought together over 60 organizations and institutions in an initiative to lay out what a university-sponsored program for refugee students could be with many experts, refugee students, advocates, resettlement leaders, who have been working on this for a long time.” Feldblum said in an interview with The Hoya. “We produced a report and came up with a campaign and the State Department embraced our idea.”
Feldblum said that the program helps to remove the obstacles that have historically kept refugee students out of higher education in the U.S.
“I think this is just the start. Up to now, refugee students have faced significant barriers to access higher education in the U.S. without a durable solution,” Feldblum said. “So what we see is that this is the beginning of a new edge of an education pathway for refugee students.”
Asadullah Azimi (CAS ’27) said he fled Afghanistan with his mom when he was 17 years old in search of a safe and stable place to live. After four years of living as a displaced refugee in India, Azimi received the opportunity to study at Georgetown through a program that Duolingo and the UNHCR sponsored, which provides similar education pathways as Welcome Corps on Campus.
Azimi said that such a program allowed him to achieve his educational aspirations despite significant barriers.
“Due to my refugee status, I could not go to college in India. But then I heard about the Duolingo University Access program which works for the same cause as the ‘Welcome Corps on Campus’ program, opening the path of higher education to refugee students,” Azimi wrote to The Hoya.
“As the first child in my family who accessed higher education, it was always a dream of mine to sit in a class and listen to a professor teaching coding,” Azimi added.
Azimi said despite the difficult transitions and trials in his life, he now feels at home at Georgetown.
“One of the main reasons I applied for Georgetown University is when I researched about this University — I don’t know how — but I felt about the community here like a family. When I arrived here, with all the support that I received from faculties, and staff here at Georgetown, I said to myself ‘I am in the right place,’” Azimi wrote.
Feldblum said that the decision to hold the initiative’s first in-person event at Georgetown was a result of the university’s history of supporting international, refugee and immigrant students.
“I reached out to Georgetown because it’s been a great member institution for the President’s Alliance, as well as supportive of refugee students, undocumented students, international students, and supportive of inclusive immigration policies and the importance of higher education,” Feldblum said. “So it was really in recognition of the role that they have already played. And we’re just so grateful that Georgetown said yes.”
Georgetown founded the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), a group of faculty and students committed to solving issues of forced displacement, as part of the Walsh School of Foreign Service in 1998. Georgetown’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues and the Center for Social Social Justice are also involved in alleviating the struggles of refugee students on and off campus.
The expansion of pathway programs like Welcome Corps on Campus marks an increase in awareness for refugee students abroad, according to Azimi.
“When I heard about the Welcome Corps on Campus program, I got really happy and told myself that there really are more people who care about refugees’ problems and support them,” Azimi wrote.