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JFON-MI explains Ukrainians’ options

Ukrainians seek safety in US

The Biden Administration is taking steps to expand the possibilities for Ukrainians hoping to seek refuge with family and friends in the U.S. Over 36,000 Ukrainians currently reside in Michigan.

BECKY BEAUCHAMP
Justice For Our Neighbors-Michigan, Exec. Director

JFON-MI is preparing to serve as many Ukrainian evacuees as we can throughout the state. Our Traverse City office is receiving many requests for assistance from relatives and friends of Ukrainians, who are either still in that war-torn country or who have fled. One of the larger populations of Ukrainians in Michigan resides in the Traverse City area.

On April 21, the Biden administration announced the Uniting for Ukraine effort. This new streamlined process will allow Ukrainian citizens who’ve been displaced by Russia’s aggression to apply for “humanitarian parole.” To be eligible for humanitarian parole, applications must be filed while the applicants are still abroad and must be approved before they can enter the U.S. Additionally, applicants must have a financial sponsor in the U.S., complete vaccinations, pass other public-health and security checks, and establish that they resided in Ukraine as of February 11, 2022. 

Ukrainians who enter the U.S. through the humanitarian parole process will be eligible for work authorization and to remain in the U.S. for a period of up to two years. The evacuees are mostly women and children because men aged 18 through 60 are required to remain in Ukraine to fight in the war.

Humanitarian parole does not provide a path toward permanent immigration status in the U.S. It serves only as a mechanism to allow Ukrainians temporary respite. Nevertheless, parole may be a desirable option for Ukrainians who have friends or family in the U.S. with whom they can stay until the situation in Ukraine improves. An estimated 355,000 Ukrainian immigrants live in the United States.

While waiting for information about how to legally come to this country, up to 15,000 Ukrainians took desperate measures by flying to Mexico to present themselves at the Southern border and ask to be admitted into the U.S. As part of its April 21 announcement, the administration warned that Ukrainians arriving at the Southern border without a visa or some form of legal status to enter the country will be turned away and told to apply for humanitarian parole. 

In March, the Biden administration first announced its intention to welcome approximately 100,000 Ukrainians to the U.S. but did not provide any details on what steps Ukrainians who wish to come here should take. At that time, the administration did announce a grant of “temporary protected status” (TBS) to Ukrainians who were already present in the United States, which was no help to Ukrainians abroad. TBS status now permits Ukrainians who were in the country as of April 11 to remain in the U.S. for up to two years.

Ukrainians seeking only temporary admission into the U.S. may also pursue other legal pathways, such as visitor visas or student visas. U.S. consular posts in Europe are overwhelmed with visa applications, but the administration indicates it is working to increase capacity to process them. 

Ukrainians who want to come to the U.S. on a permanent basis can pursue refugee status. However, it is quite challenging to meet the U.S. legal definition of “refugee,” and the average refugee resettlement case can drag on for two to four years.  Meanwhile, the applicant must wait outside the country.  

Currently, it is not clear whether the American government will apply a more lenient approach to determining refugee status. Within U.S. immigration law, war is not considered a basis for refugee designation. To qualify as refugees, individuals must establish that they have a well-founded fear of persecution by the government in their home country or by people whom the government is unwilling or unable to control. Specifically, that persecution must be on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Ukrainians who enter the U.S. on a temporary basis and later decide to apply for asylum must then meet this draconian definition of who is a “refugee.”

The Biden administration has said the Department of State will expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) operations in Europe to provide eligible Ukrainians with greater access to refugee resettlement processing. This will have a special focus on vulnerable populations and persons who may qualify under what is known as the Lautenberg program, which is geared toward religious minorities from the former Soviet Union. It is unclear whether these “expanded operations” will lead to shorter wait times.

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