United States launches new policy to shelter up to 100,000 Ukrainians

By Cristina Turcu Lugmayer

United States launches new policy to shelter up to 100,000 Ukrainians

A new streamlined process to give Ukrainian citizens fleeing Russia’s ruthless war of aggression the opportunity to enter the United States, called Uniting for Ukraine, was announced by President Biden a few weeks ago. He pledged to receive up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

“This new humanitarian parole program will complement the existing legal pathways available to Ukrainians, including immigrant visas and refugee processing,” said Biden in his statement. “It will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor, such as a family or an organization.”

Eligible Ukrainians to be sheltered for two years

The State Department announced increased levels of refugee resettlement processing and extended access to visa processing at consular posts overseas. Thus, the US government is complementing the efforts of European countries hosting displaced Ukrainian citizens.

Uniting for Ukraine allows U.S. citizens and specific groups of residents to financially sponsor displaced Ukrainians so they can enter the United States more quickly. Both parties will undergo a rigorous screening and background check. Those to be selected under the initiative will be granted humanitarian parole, allowing them to bypass visa and refugee programs which usually take years to complete. Although it does not provide permanent status, the parole would allow Ukrainians to live and work in the United States for up to two years.

About 6.6 million Ukrainians, mostly women, and children have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded their country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as part of the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Thousands of displaced refugees have traveled to Mexico seeking refuge in the United States, mentioned the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

New policy to discourage entry through Mexican border

This new policy is also intended to discourage Ukrainians from traveling through Mexico to seek entry to the United States where the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reviewed a record 3,274 Ukrainians in March alone, an increase of over 1,100% from February. The U.S. immigration service has encountered almost 15,000 undocumented Ukrainians in the past three months, mostly at the border with Mexico, a senior DHS official said during a call with reporters last month, reported CBS News.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

In early March, U.S. border officials were instructed to consider admitting Ukrainians under the humanitarian exemptions for Title 42 – a Public Health Service Act aimed at preventing the spread of communicable diseases in the country, while at the end of April they were told to no longer process Ukrainians who lacked travel documents.

“Ukrainian nationals who present and do not have a visa or have not gone through the ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ program will no longer be paroled, unless they have some other factor that would lead a border official, a CBP officer, to make a case-by-case determination that do they merit a humanitarian exception for Title 42,” a senior DHS official said.

Stay allowance procedure

In order to be allowed to travel to the United States, Ukrainians will first need to be identified by their potential sponsors since they will not be able to apply directly to the program, administration officials said. Ukrainians will be eligible for the sponsorship program if they have lived in Ukraine since February 11, 2022.

If sponsorship is approved, the Ukrainians identified by U.S. sponsors will be subject to overseas security checks to ensure they do not pose a security or public safety risk to the United States. They will also be required to be vaccinated against communicable diseases.

The administration officials added that this sponsorship program could benefit thousands of displaced Ukrainians with ties to the United States who have so far faced limited options to enter the States directly and added that the majority of Ukrainians are expected to arrive through the new program.

Additional measures to shelter Ukrainians

In addition to Uniting for Ukraine, the presidential administration announced a series of measures aimed at expanding access to existing legal pathways for Ukrainian citizens. They said the parole program has been created since their understanding was that many Ukrainians are looking for a temporary safe place and not a permanent resettlement. Individuals entering the U.S. through this parole program could face legal restrictions if they decide to stay permanently since the initiative does not guarantee residency in the States.

Furthermore, the administration announced an expansion of the referral mechanisms for particularly vulnerable Ukrainian citizens and others fleeing this conflict through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) who may warrant permanent resettlement. The particularly vulnerable populations include children, women and girls, the elderly with special needs, people with disabilities, members of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups, the medically fragile, and stateless persons.

The U.S. embassies and consulates in Europe were directed to increase, to the extent possible, the number of visa appointments for non-immigrants and to ensure that there is an accelerated visa scheduling program for people with humanitarian, medical or other extraordinary circumstances to gain priority access.

According to CBS News, the State Department is also working to track down 18,000 Ukrainians who entered the U.S. refugee pipeline before the Russian invasion under the so-called Lautenberg program which allows religious minorities in the former Soviet republics to obtain a quick resettlement in the U.S. The American refugee resettlement personnel, who moved to Moldova after their Kyiv post was closed due to the war, have identified “a number” of Ukrainians in Eastern Europe who have pending cases under the Lautenberg program.

Although the United States intended to resettle up to 125,000 refugees from around the globe in the 2022 fiscal year, only 10,742 refugees had been admitted by the end of April, as per State Department figures. In February, 427 Ukrainians entered the United States as refugees, in March – only 12, while in April the number rose to 105.