How to welcome newcomers

Making newcomers feel welcome can take a variety of forms, from small individual gestures to community-wide initiatives or volunteer work. Here are some ways you can welcome newcomers.


world refugee day volunteers at public event
Photo: iStock/Brooke Pierce

Welcoming gestures

Not all welcoming gestures are obvious. Some are just thoughtful ways of interacting that can welcome newcomers by making them feel comfortable in a new environment.

Learn how to pronounce names that are new to you

Learning to pronounce newcomers names can go a long way to showing that you welcome them. But it can be difficult. Here are some tips to help with pronouncing names.

Focus on the present

Many refugees and asylum seekers have lost family members due to war or forced displacement, and it can be traumatic for them when you bring up their past. One easy way to avoid this is to simply ask questions that are focused on the present. For example, instead of asking how many children a person has, you can ask, “How many children live with you?” This gives the other person the option to tell you more information if they choose to, without triggering past trauma.

Be aware of gender differences

Many newcomers come from cultures where non-family members do not touch one another. One of the simplest things you can do to welcome people is simply to say, “Hello, it is so nice to meet you,” without extending your hand. It may feel weird, or as if you are not following normal etiquette. But it can go a long way towards making a newcomer feel comfortable.

Be careful with your pets

We Americans love our dogs! But many newcomers are afraid of dogs or come from countries where street dogs might not be friendly. If you invite a newcomer over for a meal, consider putting your pets in another room.

Don’t be offended if people don’t smile or don’t make eye contact

Some newcomers come from cultures where smiling may be a sign of health problems and making eye contact is disrespectful. If someone avoids looking you in the eye or doesn’t smile much, try not to make any assumptions about their intentions.

Say “As-salamu alaykum” to Muslims

Many Muslims face discrimination in the United States, especially women who wear headscarves as they are very visible. Almost every Muslim, whatever language they speak, knows the expression “As-salamu alaykum,” pronounced sa-laam aa-lay-kum. It means “Peace be upon you.” If you are out and see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, you can use this phrase to be welcoming.

Wear a welcome shirt

Wear a message to welcome newcomers when you are out in your community! Buy one of our welcome shirts. The shirts send a message, directly to refugees and immigrants: “Welcome. This is your home, too.” The shirts are available in eight languages. Buy a shirt now – proceeds support our work.

Engaging the community

Work with local officials to create a welcoming city

Welcoming America is a national movement that encourages cities and towns to become more inclusive places. It has a network of welcoming cities your community can join, and it also provides support and resources on its website to help you welcome newcomers.

Spread the word about USAHello

Share our free website with organizations and individuals in your community who might not know about our website. You can also request our outreach materials to distribute in your local community to ensure refugees and immigrants know about usahello.org.

Identify needs and work with others

If you want to take action to help and welcome new neighbors, first identify the needs. Then collaborate effectively: if there is a neighborhood community store providing free clothing, you don’t need to spend weeks organizing a clothes drive. If newcomers have access to a local food bank, it may be more effective to raise money for or donate to that food bank than to organize a food drive, because food banks can purchase food more cheaply than you can.

On the other hand, these efforts may be just what your town needs! Talk to community partners and find out the needs.

Volunteering opportunities

Volunteer with USAHello

Our volunteers mostly work remotely. Volunteers play a huge role in building our content, helping translate our resources, and spreading the word about USAHello. Learn about the ways you can help us build our resources to welcome newcomers.

Volunteer in your community

You can mentor, raise money, advocate and work for organizations that help newcomers. Use FindHello to look for organizations in your community. You can also search for posted volunteer positions on Idealist.org or Volunteermatch.

Helping people feel safe

As established community members, we don’t always realize that newcomers often feel unsafe. As well as understandable fears arising from the strangeness of a new environment and culture, it is useful to remember that people may have fears of law enforcement and other authority stemming from their previous lives. So we want to mention here the importance of helping people feel safe as well as welcome.

Of course, the two go together: a vital component of feeling safe comes from connection to a community. Safety is an important integration indicator, and refugees, asylees and other immigrants who feel unsafe in their communities have greater difficulties developing social networks. Conversely, of course, refugees who feel a sense of personal safety are more likely to integrate into their new communities.