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Program to allow Americans to sponsor displaced Ukrainians

Alternative to traditional refugee programs could aid Ukrainians more quickly

Ukrainian sisters Katja, left, and Varja cook dinner Wednesday with a member of a Dutch foster family in The Hague, Netherlands. The sisters fled Kyiv with their mother at the beginning of the war, while their father remained behind.
Ukrainian sisters Katja, left, and Varja cook dinner Wednesday with a member of a Dutch foster family in The Hague, Netherlands. The sisters fled Kyiv with their mother at the beginning of the war, while their father remained behind. (Ramon Van Flymen/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration announced a new program Thursday that would offer relief to Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion by allowing Americans to sponsor them for temporary admission to the U.S.

Under the Homeland Security Department program, dubbed “Uniting for Ukraine,” American individuals and groups, including nonprofit organizations and churches, will apply to sponsor displaced Ukrainian citizens. The application site will go live April 25.

To be eligible, Ukrainians must have been living in Ukraine on Feb. 11, must have a U.S. sponsor and must meet public health standards, including vaccination requirements.

The program would provide a quick solution to vulnerable Ukrainians who might otherwise have to wait years for a spot in the traditional refugee admissions program or for a family-based or employment-based visa.

[More Ukrainians to receive immigration protections]

“The Ukrainian people continue to suffer immense tragedy and loss as a result of Putin’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on their country,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news release Thursday. “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.”

The announcement comes nearly a month after President Joe Biden pledged to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, using the “full range of legal pathways” to do so. Since the Russian invasion, nearly 15,000 Ukrainians sought relief by traveling first to Mexico, then claiming asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, senior DHS and National Security Council officials said during a call Thursday morning with reporters.

Those officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, emphasized that the new program will allow Ukrainians to fly directly to the U.S. rather than traveling through the southern border.

“We would like to encourage all Ukrainian nationals who are seeking to come to the U.S. to remain in Europe and take advantage of this program,” one official said.

Officials said the program will cater mainly towards Ukrainians with family ties in the U.S. who intend to seek relief temporarily with hopes of returning to Ukraine after the war is over. Many displaced Ukrainians have male relatives who have remained in Ukraine and are not planning on permanent resettlement in a new country, they said.

Ukrainians would enter via humanitarian parole, which allows people without visas to enter the country for pressing humanitarian reasons.

Push for help

Five million people have fled Ukraine since Russia began its invasion in February, according to the latest estimates from the U.N. refugee office.

In recent weeks, lawmakers and advocates had urged the Biden administration to provide quick ways for Ukrainians fleeing violence to seek safety in the U.S., given the slow pace of traditional refugee resettlement and immigration processing.

“I urge you to assess the number of Ukrainian nationals waiting in these backlogs and exercise humanitarian parole to allow them to quickly escape this dangerous warzone and enter the United States,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a letter last week.

And in March, dozens of House lawmakers pushed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to set up a program resembling the Obama-era Haitian Family Reunification Program, which allowed citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply for parole for their relatives in Haiti.

The Biden administration has already moved to extend protections to Ukrainians living in the U.S. On Monday, the administration finalized a plan to offer Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainian nationals who were in the U.S. on April 11, allowing them 18 months of deportation protection and work authorization.

The government expects nearly 60,000 people to be eligible for those TPS protections.

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