By Aline Barros
U.S. President Joe Biden recently announced the Uniting for Ukraine program, which aims to streamline the process for Ukrainians who have fled their country and are seeking safety in the United States.
The new program, which took effect Monday, will complement existing legal pathways available to those fleeing Russian aggression due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Biden administration officials said.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will continue to provide relief to the Ukrainian people, while supporting our European allies who have shouldered so much as the result of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement to reporters on April 21.
What is Uniting for Ukraine?
The program allows U.S. citizens and residents to sponsor Ukrainian refugees under different immigration statuses. The online portal, open to potential sponsors or organizations, is accepting applications and has received more than 4,000 requests so far, CNN reported.
Who qualifies under the program?
Ukrainians, or an immediate family member of a Ukrainian citizen. They must have a U.S. sponsor and have been a resident of Ukraine as of February 11.
What are the requirements?
They must pass security checks — including a fingerprint and an FBI name check and biographic and biometric screening — and meet public health requirements, such as having the proper vaccinations, before entering the U.S.
Those approved will be allowed to travel to the U.S., be considered for humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis, stay in the country for two years, and apply for work permits.
“The United States strongly encourages Ukrainians seeking refuge in the United States who do not have and are not eligible for a visa to seek entry via Uniting for Ukraine from Europe. This will be the safest and most efficient way to pursue temporary refuge in the United States,” a DHS statement said.
Who qualifies as a sponsor?
U.S. citizens and other residents who hold lawful status in the United States or who are beneficiaries of Deferred Enforced Departure, Temporary Protected Status, or Deferred Action, among others.
Sponsors will be required to prove they can financially support the refugee while they are in the U.S. They also need to pass security and background vetting “to protect against exploitation and abuse.” The Ukrainian applicant will receive authorization only after everything is verified, including that the sponsor has the means to support them while they are in the U.S.
Who is not eligible for parole under the program?
Ukrainian citizens already in the U.S. are not eligible for parole under Uniting for Ukraine.
However, they can apply for Temporary Protected Status, which is another form of humanitarian relief that allows people to legally stay and work in the U.S.
What about those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border?
Citing safety issues, U.S. officials have urged Ukrainians not to travel to Mexico in hopes of entering the United States. In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has no place to hold them while they go through the Uniting for Ukraine vetting process.
Since Uniting for Ukraine’s launch on Monday, Ukrainians who arrive at U.S. ports of entry without a valid visa or without preauthorization to travel to the United States through the Uniting for Ukraine program will be denied entry and told to apply to the program.
Biden officials hope this will curb the number of Ukrainian migrants seeking humanitarian parole along the border.
Those at the border must apply under the rules of Uniting for Ukraine, meaning they must have a qualifying sponsor or a non-government agency willing to sponsor them in the U.S. for up to two years. And they need to have all required vaccinations and pass background checks.
The Biden administration announced the private sponsorship initiative as another way the U.S. hopes to achieve President Biden’s commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians displaced by the Russian military invasion.
As of Thursday, almost 5.4 million refugees have since left Ukraine, according to U.N. data.