What is Welcoming?

When places describe themselves as welcoming, what does it mean?

Being welcoming is much more than being friendly, tolerant, or peaceful. We believe that truly welcoming places have intentional, inclusive policies, practices, and norms that enable all residents to live, thrive, and contribute fully — including immigrants.

Welcoming places are made possible by welcoming people and leaders, including immigrants themselves. Whether you’re a student, librarian, government worker, or business owner, each of us is empowered to foster more welcoming places at work, in our neighborhoods, and places of gathering.

Communities that have worked for many years to become more welcoming have helped us shape the Welcoming Standard. Together, welcoming places, communities, and individuals can create the conditions for a thriving community that embraces, harnesses, and fully leverages the contributions of all residents.

Why does being welcoming matter?

Being welcoming can be a challenge when communities undergo significant changes, but especially with demographic change. Whether it’s due to the economy, immigration policies, or climate disasters, communities experiencing an influx of newcomers may not be prepared, causing misunderstanding and tension, and in some cases, outright violence and hostility.

But when communities recognize the value being truly welcoming and intentionally work toward the inclusion of newcomers, they can create a culture and policy environment where all residents feel empowered to work with each other in strengthening the social, civic, and economic fabric.

When we find strength in our diversity — and actively resist fear and division — we can build a resilient community that fully harnesses the talents, skills, and contributions of every resident so that all can thrive.

The Welcoming Standard

As a way to further define what we mean by being welcoming, the Welcoming Standard provides communities a comprehensive roadmap toward becoming more welcoming places.

The Welcoming Standard also sets benchmarks that community organizations, residents, and others can use to hold welcoming places accountable and spur innovation.

There are seven framework categories of the Welcoming Standard that we believe define truly welcoming places:

  • Civic Engagement: Welcoming communities ensure that all residents, including immigrants, are able to fully participate in civic life. Immigrant residents have access to democratic spaces, and shape community priorities and policies. Immigrants hold leadership roles in the community, and local institutions are invested in increasing access to leadership positions for immigrant residents.
  • Connected Communities: Welcoming communities build connections and trust between residents. Community institutions — including local government, businesses, faith communities, and nonprofits — create opportunities and spaces for immigrant and non-immigrant residents to have constructive interactions, develop relationships, and deepen their understanding of one another. Institutions support residents in building their personal capacity to engage with people different from themselves on equal footing and in sustained ways that reduce prejudice and strengthen diverse community relationships.
  • Economic Development: In welcoming communities, all residents — including immigrants — can participate fully in the economy. Workforce and economic development infrastructure address the priorities and needs of immigrant residents and immigrant job seekers. Programs that support entrepreneurship, business development, and workforce development are accessible to all residents, including immigrants. Local businesses are committed to diverse hiring and retaining employees with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Education: In welcoming communities, the education system ensures all students, including immigrant students, have the support they need to thrive in school and the knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce. Schools and community education programs are informed by the needs and priorities of immigrant students and families, and are accessible to all residents, including immigrants. Welcoming and inclusion efforts are not siloed within a single school or program, but incorporated into the schools and school districts that serve the community.
  • Equitable Access: Welcoming communities ensure local services are accessible to all residents, including immigrants. Immigrant residents provide feedback to local government and community-based organizations to identify and address demographic disparities and gaps in services, and to improve access to programs, particularly in the areas of housing, health, transportation, financial services, and the justice system.
  • Government & Community Leadership: Welcoming communities have infrastructure in place to support immigrant participation, inclusion, and equity. The local government and community-based organizations regularly seek feedback from immigrant residents to understand the challenges and priorities of immigrant residents. Institutions work closely together to prioritize and build capacity to implement immigrant participation, inclusion, and equity strategies.
  • Safe Communities: Welcoming communities prioritize safety for all residents, including immigrants. Policies and practices are in place that prevent discrimination. Strong, trusting relationships are built between immigrant residents and local safety services, such as law enforcement, fire departments, code enforcement, and emergency response. Effective bidirectional communication between safety services and immigrant residents exists, and programs are in place to address implicit and structural bias. Community partnerships are built to identify and address needs and gaps in services.

What does a welcoming place need to get started?

There are many factors that go into creating a truly welcoming place, including:

  • Vision: Modeling in practice and policy the values of a healthy democracy
  • Leadership: Inspiring others to join in and expanding key decision making to others
  • Acknowledgement: Addressing racism at all levels and situating the work in the local and historical contexts.
  • Mutuality and agency: Striving to build trust, mutual respect, and cooperation across lines of difference. Recognizing that institutions which extend agency—not charity—will have the greatest impact.
  • Sustained commitment: Begin with shared values and culminate in the accountability of our institutions to an ever-growing “we the people”.

How can I help my community become a more welcoming place?

Creating a welcoming community is something each of us can play a role in, whether by deepening our own understanding, fostering belonging in our neighborhood or organization, electing leaders who care about these values, or joining others in moving closer to achieving the Welcoming Standard.

Throughout Welcoming America’s history, we have seen time and time again the outcomes when communities prioritize welcoming and inclusive practices in government, the economy, and social life. See our Stories of Impact to see examples of leaders taking action to make their communities more welcoming from Alaska to Pennsylvania.

More ways to take action:

  • View and download resources
  • Host an event in your community during Welcoming Week
  • Become a member of the Welcoming Network and receive technical assistance on your plans of action
  • For local governments: become Certified Welcoming to have your welcoming efforts recognized nationally
  • Share what #BeingWelcoming means to you on social media